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Glenn Greenwald NO PLACE TO HIDE 

Edward Snowden, the NSA and the Surveillance State 


Title Page 
About the Author 
Also by Glenn Greenwald 
1. Contact 
2. Ten Days in Hong Kong 
3. Collect It All 

4. The Harm of Surveillance 
5. The Fourth Estate 

A Note on Sources 


GLENN GREENWALD is the author of several US bestsellers, including How 
Would A Patriot Act? and A Tragic Legacy. Acclaimed as one of the twenty-five most 
influential political commentators by the Atlantic, Greenwald is a former constitutional law 
and civil rights attorney. He has been a columnist for the Guardian and his work has 
appeared in numerous newspapers and political news magazines, including The New York 
Times and the Los Angeles Times. In February 2014 he launched a new media organization, 
First Look Media. 

Follow him on Twitter at @ggreenwald. 


How Would a Patriot Act? 

A Tragic Legacy 

Great American Hypocrites 
With Liberty and Justice for Some 

This book is dedicated to all those who have sought to shine a light on the US government's 
secret mass surveillance systems, particularly the courageous whistle-blowers who have 
risked their liberty to do so. 

The United States government has perfected a technological capability that enables us to 
monitor the messages that go through the air.. . . That capability at any time could be turned 
around on the American people, and no American would have any privacy left, such is the 
capability to monitor everything — telephone conversations, telegrams, it doesn't matter. 
There would be no place to hide. — Senator Frank Church, Chair, Senate Select Committee to 
Study Governmental Operations with Respect to Intelligence Activities, 1975 


In the fall of 2005, without much in the way of grandiose expectations, I decided to 
create a political blog. I had little idea at the time how much this decision would eventually 
change my life. My principal motive was that I was becoming increasingly alarmed by the 
radical and extremist theories of power the US government had adopted in the wake of 9/1 1, 
and I hoped that writing about such issues might allow me to make a broader impact than I 
could in my then-career as a constitutional and civil rights lawyer. 

Just seven weeks after I began blogging, the New York Times dropped a bombshell: in 
2001, it reported, the Bush administration had secretly ordered the National Security Agency 
(NSA) to eavesdrop on the electronic communications of Americans without obtaining the 
warrants required by relevant criminal law. At the time that it was revealed, this warrantless 
eavesdropping had been going on for four years and had targeted at least several thousand 

The subject was a perfect convergence of my passions and my expertise. The 
government tried to justify the secret NSA program by invoking exactly the kind of extreme 
theory of executive power that had motivated me to begin writing: the notion that the threat 
of terrorism vested the president with virtually unlimited authority to do anything to "keep 
the nation safe," including the authority to break the law. The ensuing debate entailed 
complex questions of constitutional law and statutory interpretation, which my legal 
background rendered me well suited to address. 

I spent the next two years covering every aspect of the NSA warrantless wiretapping 
scandal, on my blog and in a bestselling 2006 book. My position was straightforward: by 
ordering illegal eavesdropping, the president had committed crimes and should be held 
accountable for them. In America's increasingly jingoistic and oppressive political climate, 
this proved to be an intensely controversial stance. 

It was this background that prompted Edward Snowden, several years later, to choose 
me as his first contact person for revealing NSA wrong-doing on an even more massive scale. 
He said he believed I could be counted on to understand the dangers of mass surveillance and 
extreme state secrecy, and not to back down in the face of pressure from the government and 

its many allies in the media and elsewhere. 

The remarkable volume of top secret documents that Snowden passed on to me, along 
with the high drama surrounding Snowden himself, have generated unprecedented 
worldwide interest in the menace of mass electronic surveillance and the value of privacy in 
the digital age. But the underlying problems have been festering for years, largely in the dark. 

There are, to be sure, many unique aspects to the current NSA controversy. 
Technology has now enabled a type of ubiquitous surveillance that had previously been the 
province of only the most imaginative science fiction writers. Moreover, the post-9/1 1 
American veneration of security above all else has created a climate particularly conducive to 
abuses of power. And thanks to Snowden' s bravery and the relative ease of copying digital 
information, we have an unparalleled firsthand look at the details of how the surveillance 
system actually operates. 

Still, in many respects the issues raised by the NSA story resonate with numerous 
episodes from the past, stretching back across the centuries. Indeed, opposition to 
government invasion of privacy was a major factor in the establishment of the United States 
itself, as American colonists protested laws that let British officials ransack at will any home 
they wished. It was legitimate, the colonists agreed, for the state to obtain specific, targeted 
warrants to search individuals when there was evidence to establish probable cause of their 
wrongdoing. But general warrants — the practice of making the entire citizenry subject to 
indiscriminate searches — were inherently illegitimate. 

The Fourth Amendment enshrined this idea in American law. Its language is clear 
and succinct: "The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and 
effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants 
shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly 
describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized." It was intended, 
above all, to abolish forever in America the power of the government to subject its citizens to 
generalized, suspicionless surveillance. 

The clash over surveillance in the eighteenth century focused on house searches, but 
as technology evolved, surveillance evolved with it. In the mid-nineteenth century, as the 
spread of railways began to allow for cheap and rapid mail delivery, the British government's 
surreptitious opening of mail caused a major scandal in the UK. By the early decades of the 
twentieth century, the US Bureau of Investigation — the precursor of today's FBI — was using 
wiretaps, along with mail monitoring and informants, to clamp down on those opposed to 
American government policies. 

No matter the specific techniques involved, historically mass surveillance has had 
several constant attributes. Initially, it is always the country's dissidents and marginalized 
who bear the brunt of the surveillance, leading those who support the government or are 
merely apathetic to mistakenly believe they are immune. And history shows that the mere 
existence of a mass surveillance apparatus, regardless of how it is used, is in itself sufficient 
to stifle dissent. A citizenry that is aware of always being watched quickly becomes a 
compliant and fearful one. 

Frank Church's mid-1970s investigation into the FBI's spying shockingly found that 
the agency had labeled half a million US citizens as potential "subversives," routinely spying 
on people based purely on their political beliefs. (The FBI's list of targets ranged from Martin 
Luther King to John Lennon, from the women's liberation movement to the anti-Communist 
John Birch Society.) But the plague of surveillance abuse is hardly unique to American 
history. On the contrary, mass surveillance is a universal temptation for any unscrupulous 

power. And in every instance, the motive is the same: suppressing dissent and mandating 

Surveillance thus unites governments of otherwise remarkably divergent political 
creeds. At the turn of the twentieth century, the British and French empires both created 
specialized monitoring departments to deal with the threat of anticolonialist movements. 
After World War II, the East German Ministry of State Security, popularly known as the 
Stasi, became synonymous with government intrusion into personal lives. And more recently, 
as popular protests during the Arab Spring challenged dictators' grasp on power, the regimes 
in Syria, Egypt, and Libya all sought to spy on the Internet use of domestic dissenters. 

Investigations by Bloomberg News and the Wall Street Journal have shown that as 
these dictatorships were overwhelmed by protestors, they literally went shopping for 
surveillance tools from Western technology companies. Syria's Assad regime flew in 
employees from the Italian surveillance company Area SpA, who were told that the Syrians 
"urgently needed to track people." In Egypt, Mubarak's secret police bought tools to 
penetrate Skype encryption and eavesdrop on activists' calls. And in Libya, the Journal 
reported, journalists and rebels who entered a government monitoring center in 201 1 found 
"a wall of black refrigerator-size devices" from the French surveillance company Amesys. 
The equipment "inspected the Internet traffic" of Libya's main Internet service provider, 
"opening emails, divining passwords, snooping on online chats and mapping connections 
among various suspects." 

The ability to eavesdrop on people's communications vests immense power in those 
who do it. And unless such power is held in check by rigorous oversight and accountability, it 
is almost certain to be abused. Expecting the US government to operate a massive 
surveillance machine in complete secrecy without falling prey to its temptations runs counter 
to every historical example and all available evidence about human nature. 

Indeed, even before Snowden's revelations, it was already becoming clear that 
treating the United States as somehow exceptional on the issue of surveillance is a highly 
naive stance. In 2006, at a congressional hearing titled "The Internet in China: A Tool for 
Freedom or Suppression?," speakers lined up to condemn American technology companies 
for helping China suppress dissent on the Internet. Christopher Smith (R-NJ), the 
congressman presiding over the hearing, likened Yahool's cooperation with Chinese secret 
police to handing Anne Frank over to the Nazis. It was a full-throated harangue, a typical 
performance when American officials speak about a regime not aligned with the United 

But even the congressional attendees couldn't help noting that the hearing happened 
to take place just two months after the New York Times revealed the vast warrantless 
domestic wiretapping carried out by the Bush administration. In light of those revelations, 
denouncing other countries for carrying out their own domestic surveillance rang rather 
hollow. Representative Brad Sherman (D-CA), speaking after Representative Smith, noted 
that the technology companies being told to resist the Chinese regime should also be careful 
regarding their own government. "Otherwise," he warned prophetically, "while those in 
China may see their privacy violated in the most heinous ways, we here in the United States 
may also find that perhaps some future president asserting these very broad interpretations of 
the Constitution is reading our e-mail, and I would prefer that not happen without a court 

Over the past decades, the fear of terrorism — stoked by consistent exaggerations of 
the actual threat — has been exploited by US leaders to justify a wide array of extremist 

policies. It has led to wars of aggression, a worldwide torture regime, and the detention (and 
even assassination) of both foreign nationals and American citizens without any charges. But 
the ubiquitous, secretive system of suspicionless surveillance that it has spawned may very 
well turn out to be its most enduring legacy. This is so because, despite all the historical 
parallels, there is also a genuinely new dimension to the current NSA surveillance scandal: 
the role now played by the Internet in daily life. 

Especially for the younger generation, the Internet is not some standalone, separate 
domain where a few of life's functions are carried out. It is not merely our post office and our 
telephone. Rather, it is the epicenter of our world, the place where virtually everything is 
done. It is where friends are made, where books and films are chosen, where political 
activism is organized, where the most private data is created and stored. It is where we 
develop and express our very personality and sense of self. 

To turn that network into a system of mass surveillance has implications unlike those 
of any previous state surveillance programs. All the prior spying systems were by necessity 
more limited and capable of being evaded. To permit surveillance to take root on the Internet 
would mean subjecting virtually all forms of human interaction, planning, and even thought 
itself to comprehensive state examination. 

From the time that it first began to be widely used, the Internet has been seen by many 
as possessing an extraordinary potential: the ability to liberate hundreds of millions of people 
by democratizing political discourse and leveling the playing field between the powerful and 
the powerless. Internet freedom — the ability to use the network without institutional 
constraints, social or state control, and pervasive fear — is central to the fulfillment of that 
promise. Converting the Internet into a system of surveillance thus guts it of its core potential. 
Worse, it turns the Internet into a tool of repression, threatening to produce the most extreme 
and oppressive weapon of state intrusion human history has ever seen. 

That's what makes Snowden's revelations so stunning and so vitally important. By 
daring to expose the NSA's astonishing surveillance capabilities and its even more 
astounding ambitions, he has made it clear, with these disclosures, that we stand at a historic 
crossroads. Will the digital age usher in the individual liberation and political freedoms that 
the Internet is uniquely capable of unleashing? Or will it bring about a system of omnipresent 
monitoring and control, beyond the dreams of even the greatest tyrants of the past? Right 
now, either path is possible. Our actions will determine where we end up. 



On December 1, 2012, 1 received my first communication from Edward Snowden, 
although I had no idea at the time that it was from him. 

The contact came in the form of an email from someone calling himself Cincinnatus, 
a reference to Lucius Quinctius Cincinnatus, the Roman farmer who, in the fifth century BC, 
was appointed dictator of Rome to defend the city against attack. He is most remembered for 
what he did after vanquishing Rome's enemies: he immediately and voluntarily gave up 
political power and returned to farming life. Hailed as a "model of civic virtue," Cincinnatus 
has become a symbol of the use of political power in the public interest and the worth of 
limiting or even relinquishing individual power for the greater good. 

The email began: "The security of people's communications is very important to 
me," and its stated purpose was to urge me to begin using PGP encryption so that 

"Cincinnatus" could communicate things in which, he said, he was certain I would be 
interested. Invented in 1991, PGP stands for "pretty good privacy." It has been developed 
into a sophisticated tool to shield email and other forms of online communications from 
surveillance and hacking. 

The program essentially wraps every email in a protective shield, which is a code 
composed of hundreds, or even thousands, of random numbers and case-sensitive letters. The 
most advanced intelligence agencies around the world — a class that certainly includes the 
National Security Agency — possess password-cracking software capable of one billion 
guesses per second. But so lengthy and random are these PGP encryption codes that even the 
most sophisticated software requires many years to break them. People who most fear having 
their communications monitored, such as intelligence operatives, spies, human rights 
activists, and hackers, trust this form of encryption to protect their messages. 

In this email, "Cincinnatus" said he had searched everywhere for my PGP "public 
key," a unique code set that allows people to receive encrypted email, but could not find it. 
From this, he concluded that I was not using the program and told me, "That puts anyone who 
communicates with you at risk. I'm not arguing that every communication you are involved 
in be encrypted, but you should at least provide communicants with that option." 

"Cincinnatus" then referenced the sex scandal of General David Petraeus, whose 
career-ending extramarital affair with journalist Paula Broadwell was discovered when 
investigators found Google emails between the two. Had Petraeus encrypted his messages 
before handing them over to Gmail or storing them in his drafts folder, he wrote, 
investigators would not have been able to read them. "Encryption matters, and it is not just 
for spies and philanderers." Installing encrypted email, he said, "is a critically-necessary 
security measure for anyone who wishes to communicate with you." 

To motivate me to follow his advice, he added, "There are people out there you would 
like to hear from who will never be able to contact you without knowing their messages 
cannot be read in transit." 

Then he offered to help me install the program: "If you need any help at all with this, 
please let me know, or alternately request help on Twitter. You have many 
technically-proficient followers who are willing to offer immediate assistance." He signed 
off: "Thank you. C." 

Using encryption software was something I had long intended to do. I had been 
writing for years about WikiLeaks, whistle-blowers, the hacktivist collective known as 
Anonymous, and related topics, and had also communicated from time to time with people 
inside the US national security establishment. Most of them are very concerned about the 
security of their communications and preventing unwanted monitoring. But the program is 
complicated, especially for someone who had very little skill in programming and computers, 
like me. So it was one of those things I had never gotten around to doing. 

C.'s email did not move me to action. Because I had become known for covering 
stories the rest of the media often ignores, I frequently hear from all sorts of people offering 
me a "huge story," and it usually turns out to be nothing. And at any given moment I am 
usually working on more stories than I can handle. So I need something concrete to make me 
drop what I'm doing in order to pursue a new lead. Despite the vague allusion to "people out 
there" I "would like to hear from," there was nothing in C.'s email that I found sufficiently 
enticing. I read it but did not reply. 

Three days later, I heard from C. again, asking me to confirm receipt of the first email. 
This time I replied quickly. "I got this and am going to work on it. I don't have a PGP code, 

and don't know how to do that, but I will try to find someone who can help me." 

C. replied later that day with a clear, step-by-step guide to the PGP system: 
Encryption for Dummies, in essence. At the end of the instructions, which I found complex 
and confusing, mostly due to my own ignorance, he said these were just "the barest basics. If 
you can't find anyone to walk you through installation, generation, and use," he added, 
"please let me know. I can facilitate contact with people who understand crypto almost 
anywhere in the world." 

This email ended with more a pointed sign-off: "Cryptographically yours, 

Despite my intentions, I never created the time to work on encryption. Seven weeks 
went by, and my failure to do this weighed a bit on my mind. What if this person really did 
have an important story, one I would miss just because I failed to install a computer program? 
Apart from anything else, I knew encryption might be valuable in the future, even if 
Cincinnatus turned out to have nothing of interest. 

On January 28, 2013, 1 emailed C. to say that I would get someone to help me with 
encryption and hopefully would have it done within the next day or so. 

C. replied the next day: "That's great news! If you need any further help or have 
questions in the future, you will always be welcome to reach out. Please accept my sincerest 
thanks for your support of communications privacy! Cincinnatus." 

But yet again, I did nothing, consumed as I was at the time with other stories, and still 
unconvinced that C. had anything worthwhile to say. There was no conscious decision to do 
nothing. It was simply that on my always too-long list of things to take care of, installing 
encryption technology at the behest of this unknown person never became pressing enough 
for me to stop other things and focus on it. 

C. and I thus found ourselves in a Catch-22. He was unwilling to tell me anything 
specific about what he had, or even who he was and where he worked, unless I installed 
encryption. But without the enticement of specifics, it was not a priority to respond to his 
request and take the time to install the program. 

In the face of my inaction, C. stepped up his efforts. He produced a ten-minute video 
entitled PGP for Journalists. Using software that generates a computer voice, the video 
instructed me in an easy, step-by-step fashion how to install encryption software, complete 
with charts and visuals. 

Still I did nothing. It was at that point that C, as he later told me, become frustrated. 
"Here am I," he thought, "ready to risk my liberty, perhaps even my life, to hand this guy 
thousands of Top Secret documents from the nation's most secretive agency — a leak that will 
produce dozens if not hundreds of huge journalistic scoops. And he can't even be bothered to 
install an encryption program." 

That's how close I came to blowing off one of the largest and most consequential 
national security leaks in US history. 

* * * 

The next I heard of any of this was ten weeks later. On April 18,1 flew from my home 
in Rio de Janeiro to New York, where I was scheduled to give some talks on the dangers of 
government secrecy and civil liberties abuses done in the name of the War on Terror. 

On landing at JFK Airport, I saw that I had an email message from Laura Poitras, the 
documentary filmmaker, which read: "Any chance you'll be in the US this coming week? I'd 
love to touch base about something, though best to do in person." 

I take seriously any message from Laura Poitras. One of the most focused, fearless, 
and independent individuals I've ever known, she has made film after film in the riskiest of 
circumstances, with no crew or the support of a news organization, just a modest budget, one 
camera, and her determination. At the height of the worst violence of the Iraq War, she 
ventured into the Sunni Triangle to make My Country, My Country, an unflinching look at 
life under US occupation that was nominated for an Academy award. 

For her next film, The Oath, Poitras traveled to Yemen, where she spent months 
following two Yemeni men — Osama bin Laden' s bodyguard as well as his driver. Since then, 
Poitras has been working on a documentary about NSA surveillance. The three films, 
conceived as a trilogy about US conduct during the War on Terror, made her a constant target 
of harassment by government authorities every time she entered or left the country. 

Through Laura, I learned a valuable lesson. By the time we first met, in 2010, she had 
been detained in airports by the Department of Homeland Security more than three dozen 
times as she entered the United States — interrogated, threatened, her materials seized, 
including her laptop, cameras, and notebooks. Yet she repeatedly decided not to go public 
with the relentless harassment, fearing that the repercussions would make her work 
impossible. That changed after an unusually abusive interrogation at Newark Liberty 
International Airport. Laura had had enough. "It's getting worse, not better, from my being 
silent." She was ready for me to write about it. 

The article I published in the online political magazine Salon detailing the constant 
interrogations to which Poitras had been subjected received substantial attention, drawing 
statements of support and denunciations of the harassment. The next time Poitras flew out of 
the United States after the article ran, there was no interrogation and she did not have her 
materials seized. Over the next couple of months, there was no harassment. For the first time 
in years, Laura was able to travel freely. 

The lesson for me was clear: national security officials do not like the light. They act 
abusively and thuggishly only when they believe they are safe, in the dark. Secrecy is the 
linchpin of abuse of power, we discovered, its enabling force. Transparency is the only real 

* * * 

At JFK, reading Laura's email, I replied immediately: "Actually, just got to the US 
this morning.. . . Where are you?" We arranged a meeting for the next day, in the lobby at my 
hotel in Yonkers, a Marriott, and found seats in the restaurant, At Laura's insistence, we 
moved tables twice before beginning our conversation to be sure that nobody could hear us. 
Laura then got down to business. She had an "extremely important and sensitive matter" to 
discuss, she said, and security was critical. 

Since I had my cell phone with me, Laura asked that I either remove the battery or 
leave it in my hotel room. "It sounds paranoid," she said, but the government has the 
capability to activate cell phones and laptops remotely as eavesdropping devices. Powering 
off the phone or laptop does not defeat the capability: only removing the battery does. I'd 
heard this before from transparency activists and hackers but tended to write it off as excess 
caution, but this time I took it seriously because it came from Laura. After discovering that 
the battery on my cell phone could not be removed, I took it back to my room, then returned 
to the restaurant. 

Now Laura began to talk. She had received a series of anonymous emails from 
someone who seemed both honest and serious. He claimed to have access to some extremely 

secret and incriminating documents about the US government spying on its own citizens and 
on the rest of the world. He was determined to leak these documents to her and had 
specifically requested that she work with me on releasing and reporting on them. I made no 
connection at the time to the long-since-forgotten emails I had received from Cincinnatus 
months earlier. They had been parked at the back of my mind, out of view. 

Laura then pulled several pages out of her purse from two of the emails sent by the 
anonymous leaker, and I read them at the table from start to finish. They were riveting. 

The second of the emails, sent weeks after the first, began: "Still here." With regard to 
the question at the forefront of my mind — when would he be ready to furnish 
documents? — he had written, "All I can say is 'soon.'" 

After urging her to always remove batteries from cell phones before talking about 
sensitive matters — or, at least, to put the phones in the freezer, where their eavesdropping 
capability would be impeded — the leaker told Laura that she should work with me on these 
documents. He then got to the crux of what he viewed as his mission: 
The shock of this initial period [after the first revelations] will provide the support needed to 
build a more equal internet, but this will not work to the advantage of the average person 
unless science outpaces law. By understanding the mechanisms through which our privacy is 
violated, we can win here. We can guarantee for all people equal protection against 
unreasonable search through universal laws, but only if the technical community is willing to 
face the threat and commit to implementing over-engineered solutions. In the end, we must 
enforce a principle whereby the only way the powerful may enjoy privacy is when it is the 
same kind shared by the ordinary: one enforced by the laws of nature, rather than the policies 
of man. "He's real," I said when I finished reading. "I can't explain exactly why, but I 

just feel intuitively that this is serious, that he's exactly who he says he is." 

"So do I," Laura replied. "I have very little doubt." 

Reasonably and rationally, Laura and I knew that our faith in the leaker's veracity 
might have been misplaced. We had no idea who was writing to her. He could have been 
anyone. He could have been inventing the entire tale. This also could have been some sort of 
plot by the government to entrap us into collaborating with a criminal leak. Or perhaps it had 
come from someone who sought to damage our credibility by passing on fraudulent 
documents to publish. 

We discussed all these possibilities. We knew that a 2008 secret report by the US 
Army had declared WikiLeaks an enemy of the state and proposed ways to "damage and 
potentially destroy" the organization. The report (ironically leaked to WikiLeaks) discussed 
the possibility of passing on fraudulent documents. If WikiLeaks published them as authentic, 
it would suffer a serious blow to its credibility. 

Laura and I were aware of all the pitfalls but we discounted them, relying instead on 
our intuition. Something intangible yet powerful about those emails convinced us that their 
author was genuine. He wrote out of a belief in the dangers of government secrecy and 
pervasive spying; I instinctively recognized his political passion. I felt a kinship with our 
correspondent, with his worldview, and with the sense of urgency that was clearly consuming 

Over the past seven years, I had been driven by the same conviction, writing almost 
on a daily basis about the dangerous trends in US state secrecy, radical executive power 
theories, detention and surveillance abuses, militarism, and the assault on civil liberties. 
There is a particular tone and attitude that unites journalists, activists, and readers of mine, 
people who are equally alarmed by these trends. It would be difficult, I reasoned, for 

someone who did not truly believe and feel this alarm to replicate it so accurately, with such 

In one of the last passages of Laura's emails, her correspondent wrote that he was 
completing the final steps necessary to provide us with the documents. He needed another 
four to six weeks, and we should wait to hear from him. He assured us that we would. 

Three days later, Laura and I met again, this time in Manhattan, and with another 
email from the anonymous leaker, in which he explained why he was willing to risk his 
liberty, to subject himself to the high likelihood of a very lengthy prison term, in order to 
disclose these documents. Now I was even more convinced: our source was for real, but as I 
told my partner, David Miranda, on the flight home to Brazil, I was determined to put the 
whole thing out of my mind. "It may not happen. He could change his mind. He could get 
caught." David is a person of powerful intuition, and he was weirdly certain. "It's real. He's 

real. It's going to happen," he declared. "And it's going to be huge." 

* * * 

After returning to Rio, I heard nothing for three weeks. I spent almost no time 
thinking about the source because all I could do was wait. Then, on May 11,1 received an 
email from a tech expert with whom Laura and I had worked in the past. His words were 
cryptic but his meaning clear: "Hey Glenn, I'm following up with learning to use PGP. Do 
you have an address I can mail you something to help you get started next week?" 

I was sure that the something he wanted to send was what I needed to begin working 
on the leaker's documents. That, in turn, meant Laura had heard from our anonymous 
emailer and received what we had been waiting for. 

The tech person then sent a package via Federal Express, scheduled to arrive in two 
days. I did not know what to expect: a program, or the documents themselves? For the next 
forty-eight hours, it was impossible to focus on anything else. But on the day of scheduled 
delivery, 5:30 p.m. came and went and nothing arrived. I called FedEx and was told that the 
package was being held in customs for "unknown reasons." Two days went by. Then five. 
Then a full week. Every day FedEx said the same thing — that the package was being held in 
customs, for reasons unknown. 

I briefly entertained the suspicion that some government authority — American, 
Brazilian, or otherwise — was responsible for this delay because they knew something, but I 
held on to the far likelier explanation that it was just one of those coincidental bureaucratic 

By this point, Laura was very reluctant to discuss any of this by phone or online, so I 
didn't know what exactly was in the package. 

Finally, roughly ten days after the package had been sent to me, FedEx delivered it. I 
tore open the envelope and found two USB thumb drives, along with a typewritten note 
containing detailed instructions for using various computer programs designed to provide 
maximum security, as well as numerous passphrases to encrypted email accounts and other 
programs I had never heard of. 

I had no idea what all this meant. I had never heard of these specific programs before, 
although I knew about passphrases, basically long passwords containing randomly arranged 
case-sensitive letters and punctuation, designed to make them difficult to crack. With Poitras 
deeply reluctant to talk by phone or online, I was still frustrated: finally in possession of what 
I was waiting for, but with no clue where it would lead me. 

I was about to find out, from the best possible guide. 

The day after the package arrived, during the week of May 20, Laura told me we 
needed to speak urgently, but only through OTR (off-the-record) chat, an encrypted 
instrument for talking online securely. I had used OTR previously, and managed to install the 
chat program, signed up for an account, and added Laura's user name to my "buddy list." She 
showed up instantly. 

I asked about whether I now had access to the secret documents. They would only 
come to me from the source, she told me, not from her. Laura then added some startling new 
information, that we might have to travel to Hong Kong immediately, to meet our source. 
Now I was baffled. What was someone with access to top secret US government documents 
doing in Hong Kong? I had assumed that our anonymous source was in Maryland or northern 
Virginia. What did Hong Kong have to do with any of this? I was willing to travel anywhere, 
of course, but I wanted more information about why I was going. But Laura's inability to 
speak freely forced us to postpone that discussion. 

She asked whether I'd be willing to travel to Hong Kong within the next few days. I 
wanted to be certain that this would be worthwhile, meaning: Had she obtained verification 
that this source was real? She cryptically replied, "Of course, I wouldn't ask you to go to 
Hong Kong if I hadn't." I assumed this meant she had received some serious documents from 
the source. 

But she also told me about a brewing problem. The source was upset by how things 
had gone thus far, particularly about a new turn: the possible involvement of the Washington 
Post. Laura said it was critical that I speak to him directly, to assure him and placate his 
growing concerns. 

Within an hour, the source himself emailed me. 

This email came from Verax@ ^^^^^^H . Verax means "truth teller " in Latin. 
The subject line read, "Need to talk." 

"I've been working on a major project with a mutual friend of ours," the email began, 
letting me know that it was he, the anonymous source, clearly referring to his contacts with 

"You recently had to decline short-term travel to meet with me. You need to be 
involved in this story," he wrote. "Is there any way we can talk on short notice? I understand 
you don't have much in the way of secure infrastructure, but I'll work around what you 
have." He suggested that we speak via OTR and provided his user name. 

I was uncertain what he had meant about "declining short-term travel": I had 
expressed confusion about why he was in Hong Kong but certainly hadn't refused to go. I 
chalked that up to miscommunication and replied immediately. "I want to do everything 
possible to be involved in this," I told him, suggesting that we talk right away on OTR. I 
added his user name to my OTR buddy list and waited. 

Within fifteen minutes, my computer sounded a bell-like chime, signaling that he had 
signed on. Slightly nervous, I clicked on his name and typed "hello." He answered, and I 
found myself speaking directly to someone who I assumed had, at that point, revealed a 
number of secret documents about US surveillance programs and who wanted to reveal 

Right off the bat, I told him I was absolutely committed to the story. "I'm willing to 
do what I have to do to report this," I said. The source — whose name, place of employment, 
age, and all other attributes were still unknown to me — asked if I would come to Hong Kong 
to meet him. I did not ask why he was in Hong Kong; I wanted to avoid appearing to be 
fishing for information. 

Indeed, from the start I decided I would let him take the lead. If he wanted me to know 
why he was in Hong Kong, he would tell me. And if he wanted me to know what documents 
he had and planned to provide me, he would tell me that, too. This passive posture was 
difficult for me. As a former litigator and current journalist, I'm accustomed to aggressive 
questioning when I want answers, and I had hundreds of things I wanted to ask. 

But I assumed his situation was delicate. Whatever else was true, I knew that this 
person had resolved to carry out what the US government would consider a very serious 
crime. It was clear from how concerned he was with secure communications that discretion 
was vital. And, I reasoned, — since I had so little information about whom I was talking to, 
about his thinking, his motives and fears — that caution and restraint on my part were 
imperative. I did not want to scare him off, so I forced myself to let the information come to 
me rather than trying to grab it. 

"Of course I'll come to Hong Kong," I said, still having no idea why he was there, of 
all places, or why he wanted me to go there. 

We spoke online that day for two hours. His first concern was what was happening 
with some of the NSA documents that, with his consent, Poitras had talked about to a 
Washington Post reporter, Barton Gellman. The documents pertained to one specific story 
about a program called PRISM, which allowed the NSA to collect private communications 
from the world's largest Internet companies, including Facebook, Google, Yahoo!, and 

Rather than report the story quickly and aggressively, the Washington Post had 
assembled a large team of lawyers who were making all kinds of demands and issuing all 
sorts of dire warnings. To the source, this signaled that the Post, handed what he believed 
was an unprecedented journalistic opportunity, was being driven by fear rather than 
conviction and determination. He was also livid that the Post had involved so many people, 
afraid that these discussions might jeopardize his security. 

"I don't like how this is developing," he told me. "I had wanted someone else to do 
this one story abut PRISM so you could focus on the broader archive, especially the mass 
domestic spying, but now I really want you to be the one to report this. I've been reading you 
a long time," he said, "and I know you'll be aggressive and fearless in how you do this." 

"I'm ready and eager," I told him. "Let's decide now what I need to do." 

"The first order of business is for you to get to Hong Kong," he said. He returned to 
that again and again: come to Hong Kong immediately. 

The other significant topic we discussed in that first online conversation was his goal. 
I knew from the emails Laura had shown me that he felt compelled to tell the world about the 
massive spying apparatus the US government was secretly building. But what did he hope to 

"I want to spark a worldwide debate about privacy, Internet freedom, and the dangers 
of state surveillance," he said. "I'm not afraid of what will happen to me. I've accepted that 
my life will likely be over from my doing this. I'm at peace with that. I know it's the right 
thing to do." 

He then said something startling: "I want to identify myself as the person behind 
these disclosures. I believe I have an obligation to explain why I'm doing this and what I 
hope to achieve." He told me he had written a document that he wanted to post on the Internet 
when he outed himself as the source, a pro-privacy, anti-surveillance manifesto for people 
around the world to sign, showing that there was global support for protecting privacy. 

Despite the near-certain costs of outing himself — a lengthy prison term if not 

worse — he was, the source said again and again, "at peace" with those consequences. "I only 
have one fear in doing all of this," he said, which is "that people will see these documents and 
shrug, that they'll say, 'we assumed this was happening and don't care.' The only thing I'm 
worried about is that I'll do all this to my life for nothing." 

"I seriously doubt that will happen," I assured him, but I wasn't convinced I really 
believed that. I knew from my years of writing about NSA abuses that it can be hard to 
generate serious concern about secret state surveillance: invasion of privacy and abuse of 
power can be viewed as abstractions, ones that are difficult to get people to care about 
viscerally. What's more, the issue of surveillance is invariably complex, making it even 
harder to engage the public in a widespread way. 

But this felt different. The media pays attention when top secret documents are leaked. 
And the fact that the warning was coming from someone on the inside of the national security 
apparatus — rather than an American Civil Liberties Union lawyer or a civil liberties 
advocate — surely meant that it would have added weight. 

That night, I talked to David about going to Hong Kong. I was still reluctant to drop 
all of my work to fly to the other side of the world to meet someone I knew nothing about, not 
even his name, particularly since I had no real evidence that he was who he said he was. It 
could be a complete waste of time — or entrapment or some other weird plot. 

"You should tell him that you want to see a few documents first to know that he's 
serious and that this is worth it for you," David suggested. 

As usual, I took his advice. When I signed on to OTR the next morning, I said I was 
planning to leave for Hong Kong within days but first wanted to see some documents so that 
I understood the types of disclosures he was prepared to make. 

To do that, he told me again to install various programs. I then spent a couple of days 
online as the source walked me through, step by step, how to install and use each program, 
including, finally, PGP encryption. Knowing that I was a beginner, he exhibited great 
patience, literally on the level of "Click the blue button, now press OK, now go to the next 

I kept apologizing for my lack of proficiency, for having to take hours of his time to 
teach me the most basic aspects of secure communication. "No worries," he said, "most of 
this makes little sense. And I have a lot of free time right now." 

Once the programs were all in place, I received a file containing roughly twenty-five 
documents: "Just a very small taste: the tip of the tip of the iceberg," he tantalizingly 

I un-zipped the file, saw the list of documents, and randomly clicked on one of them. 
At the top of the page in red letters, a code appeared: "TOP 

This meant the document had been legally designated top secret, pertained to 
communications intelligence (COMINT), and was not for distribution to foreign nationals, 
including international organizations or coalition partners (NOFORN). There it was with 
incontrovertible clarity: a highly confidential communication from the NSA, one of the most 
secretive agencies in the world's most powerful government. Nothing of this significance 
had ever been leaked from the NSA, not in all the six-decade history of the agency. I now had 
a couple dozen such items in my possession. And the person I had spent hours chatting with 
over the last two days had many, many more to give me. 

That first document was a training manual for NSA officials to teach analysts about 
new surveillance capabilities. It discussed in broad terms the type of information the analysts 

could query (email addresses, IP [Internet protocol] locator data, telephone numbers) and the 
type of data they would receive in response (email content, telephone "meta-data," chat logs). 
Basically, I was eavesdropping on NSA officials as they instructed their analysts on how to 
listen in on their targets. 

My heart was racing. I had to stop reading and walk around my house a few times to 
take in what I had just seen and calm myself enough to focus on reading the files. I went back 
to my laptop and randomly clicked on the next document, a top secret PowerPoint 
presentation, entitled "PRISM/US-984XN Overview." Each page bore the logos of nine of 
the largest Internet companies, including Google, Facebook, Skype, and Yahoo!. 

The first slides laid out a program under which the NSA had what it called "collection 
directly from the servers of these U.S. Service Providers: Microsoft, Yahoo, Google, 
Facebook, Paltalk, AOL, Skype, YouTube, Apple." A graph displayed the dates on which 
each of these companies had joined the program. 

Again I became so excited, I had to stop reading. 

The source also said he was sending me a large file that I would be unable to access 
until the time was right. I decided to set aside that cryptic though significant statement for the 
moment, in line with my approach of letting him decide when I got information but also 
because I was so excited by what I had in front of me. 

From the first glimpse I'd had of just these few documents, I knew two things: I 
needed to get to Hong Kong right away, and I would have to have substantial institutional 
support to do this reporting. This meant involving the Guardian, the newspaper and online 
news website that I had joined as a daily columnist only nine months earlier. Now I was about 
to bring them in to what I knew already would be a major explosive story. 

Using Skype, I called Janine Gibson, the British editor in chief of the US edition of 
the Guardian. My agreement with the Guardian was that I had full editorial independence, 
which meant that nobody could edit or even review my articles before they ran. I wrote my 
pieces, and then published them directly to the Internet myself. The only exceptions to this 
arrangement were that I would alert them if my writing could have legal consequences for the 
newspaper or posed an unusual journalistic quandary. That had happened very few times in 
the previous nine months, only once or twice, which meant that I had had very little 
interaction with the Guardian editors. 

Obviously, if any story warranted a heads-up, it was this one. Also, I knew I would 
need the paper's resources and support. 

"Janine, I have a huge story," I plunged in. "I have a source who has access to what 
seems to be a large amount of top secret documents from the NSA. He's given me a few 
already, and they're shocking. But he says he has many, many more. For some reason, he's in 
Hong Kong, I have no idea why yet, and he wants me to go there to meet him and get the rest. 
What he's given me, what I just looked at, show some pretty shocking — " 

Gibson interrupted. "How are you calling me?" 

"By Skype." 

"I don't think we should talk about this on the phone, and definitely not by Skype," 
she wisely said, and she proposed that I get on a plane to New York immediately so that we 
could discuss the story in person. 

My plan, which I told Laura, was to fly to New York, show the documents to the 
Guardian, get them excited about the story, and then have them send me to Hong Kong to see 
the source. Laura agreed to meet me in New York, and then we intended to travel together to 
Hong Kong. 

The next day, I flew from Rio to JFK on the overnight flight, and by 9:00 a.m. the 
following day, Friday, May 31,1 had checked in to my Manhattan hotel and then met Laura. 
The first thing we did was go to a store to buy a laptop that would serve as my "air gapped 
machine," a computer that never connected to the Internet. It is much more difficult to 
subject an Internet-free computer to surveillance. To monitor an air gapped computer, an 
intelligence service such as the NSA would have to engage in far more difficult methods, 
such as obtaining physical access to the computer and placing a surveillance device on the 
hard drive. Keeping the computer close at all times helps prevent that type of invasion. I 
would use this new laptop to work with materials that I didn't want monitored, like secret 
NSA documents, without fear of detection. 

I shoved my new computer into my backpack and walked the five Manhattan blocks 
with Laura to the Guardian's Soho office. 

Gibson was waiting for us when we arrived. She and I went directly into her office, 
where we were joined by Stuart Millar, Gibson's deputy. Laura sat outside. Gibson didn't 
know Laura, and I wanted us to be able to talk freely. I had no idea how the Guardian editors 
would react to what I had. I hadn't worked with them before, certainly not on anything 
remotely approaching this level of gravity and importance. 

After I pulled up the source's files on my laptop, Gibson and Millar sat together at a 
table and read the documents, periodically muttering "wow" and "holy shit" and similar 
exclamations. I sat on a sofa and watched them read, observing the shock registering on their 
faces when the reality of what I possessed began to sink in. Each time they finished with one 
document, I popped up to show them the next one. Their amazement only intensified. 

In addition to the two dozen or so NSA documents the source had sent, he had 
included the manifesto he intended to post, calling for signatures as a show of solidarity with 
the pro-privacy, anti-surveillance cause. The manifesto was dramatic and severe, but that was 
to be expected, given the dramatic and severe choices he had made, choices that would upend 
his life forever. It made sense to me that someone who had witnessed the shadowy 
construction of a ubiquitous system of state surveillance, with no oversight or checks, would 
be gravely alarmed by what he had seen and the dangers it posed. Of course his tone was 
extreme; he had been so alarmed that he had made an extraordinary decision to do something 
brave and far-reaching. I understood the reason for his tone, although I worried about how 
Gibson and Millar would react to reading the manifesto. I didn't want them to think we were 
dealing with someone unstable, particularly since, having spent many hours talking to him, I 
knew that he was exceptionally rational and deliberative. 

My fear was quickly validated. "This is going to sound crazy to some people," 
Gibson pronounced. 

"Some people and pro-NSA media types will say it's a bit Ted Kaczynski-ish," I 
agreed. "But ultimately, the documents are what matters, not him or his motives for giving 
them to us. And besides, anyone who does something this extreme is going to have extreme 
thoughts. That's inevitable." 

Along with that manifesto, Snowden had written a missive to the journalists to whom 
he gave his archive of documents. It sought to explain his purpose and goals and predicted 
how he would likely be demonized: 

My sole motive is to inform the public as to that which is done in their name and that which is 
done against them. The U.S. government, in conspiracy with client states, chiefest among 
them the Five Eyes — the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand — have 
inflicted upon the world a system of secret, pervasive surveillance from which there is no 

refuge. They protect their domestic systems from the oversight of citizenry through 
classification and lies, and shield themselves from outrage in the event of leaks by 
overemphasizing limited protections they choose to grant the governed.. . .The enclosed 
documents are real and original, and are offered to provide an understanding of how the 
global, passive surveillance system works so that protections against it may be developed. On 
the day of this writing, all new communications records that can be ingested and catalogued 
by this system are intended to be held for [] years, and new "Massive Data Repositories" (or 
euphemistically "Mission" Data Repositories) are being built and deployed worldwide, with 
the largest at the new data center in Utah. While I pray that public awareness and debate will 
lead to reform, bear in mind that the policies of men change in time, and even the 
Constitution is subverted when the appetites of power demand it. In words from history: Let 
us speak no more of faith in man, but bind him down from mischief by the chains of 
cryptography. I instantly recognized the last sentence as a play on a Thomas Jefferson quote 
from 1798 that I often cited in my writing: "In questions of power, then, let no more be heard 
of confidence in man, but bind him down from mischief by the chains of the Constitution." 

After reviewing all of the documents, including Snowden's missive, Gibson and 
Millar were persuaded. "Basically," Gibson concluded within two hours of my arrival that 
morning, "you need to go to Hong Kong as soon as possible, like tomorrow, right?" 

The Guardian was on board. My mission in New York had been accomplished. Now 
I knew that Gibson was committed to pursuing the story aggressively, at least for the moment. 
That afternoon, Laura and I worked with the Guardian's travel person to get to Hong Kong 
as quickly as possible. The best option was a sixteen-hour non-stop flight on Cathay Pacific 
that left from JFK the next morning. But just as we began to celebrate our imminent meeting 
with the source, we ran into a complication. 

At the end of the day, Gibson declared that she wanted to involve a longtime 
Guardian reporter, Ewen MacAskill, who had been at the paper for twenty years. "He's a 
great journalist," she said. Given the magnitude of what I was embarking on, I knew that I'd 
need other Guardian reporters on the story and had no objection in theory. "I'd like Ewen to 
go with you to Hong Kong," she added. 

I didn't know MacAskill. More important, neither did the source, and as far as he 
knew, only Laura and I were coming to Hong Kong. And Laura, who plans everything 
meticulously, was also bound to be furious at this sudden change in our plans. 

I was right. "No way. Absolutely not," she responded. "We can't just add some new 
person at the last minute. And I don't know him at all. Who has vetted him?" 

I tried to explain what I thought was Gibson's motive. I didn't really know or trust the 
Guardian yet, not when it came to such a huge story, and I assumed they felt the same way 
about me. Given how much the Guardian had at stake, I reasoned that they likely wanted 
someone they knew very well — a longtime company man — to tell them what was going on 
with the source and to assure them that this story was something they should do. Besides, 
Gibson would need the full support and approval of the Guardian editors in London, who 
knew me even less well than she did. She probably wanted to bring in someone who could 
make London feel safe, and Ewen fit that bill perfectly. 

"I don't care," Laura said. "Traveling with some third person, some stranger, could 
attract surveillance or scare the source." As a compromise, Laura suggested that they send 
Ewen after a few days, once we had established contact with the source in Hong Kong and 
built trust. "You have all the leverage. Tell them they can't send Ewen until we're ready." 

I went back to Gibson with what seemed like a smart compromise, but she was 

determined. "Ewen can travel with you to Hong Kong, but he won't meet the source until you 
and Laura both say you're ready." 

Clearly, Ewen coming with us to Hong Kong was crucial to the Guardian. Gibson 
would need assurances about what was happening there and a way to assuage any worries her 
bosses in London might have. But Laura was just as adamant that we would travel alone. "If 
the source surveils us at the airport and sees this unexpected third person he doesn't know, 
he'll freak out and terminate contact. No way." Like a State Department diplomat shuttling 
between Middle East adversaries in the futile hope of brokering a deal, I went back to Gibson, 
who gave a vague reply designed to signal that Ewen would follow a couple of days later. Or 
maybe that's what I wanted to hear. 

Either way, I learned from the travel person late that night that Ewen's ticket had been 
bought — for the next day, on the same flight. And they were sending him on that plane no 
matter what. 

In the car on the way to the airport, Laura and I had our first and only argument. I 
gave her the news as soon as the car pulled out of the hotel and she exploded with anger. I 
was jeopardizing the entire arrangement, she insisted. It was unconscionable to bring some 
stranger in at this late stage. She didn't trust someone who hadn't been vetted for work on 
something so sensitive and she blamed me for letting the Guardian risk our plan. 

I couldn't tell Laura that her concerns were invalid, but I did try to convince her that 
the Guardian was insistent, there was no choice. And Ewen would only meet the source 
when we were ready. 

Laura didn't care. To placate her anger, I even offered not to go, a suggestion she 
instantly rejected. We sat in miserable, angry silence for ten minutes as the car was stuck in 
traffic on the way to JFK. 

I knew Laura was right: it shouldn't have happened this way, and I broke the silence 
by telling her so. I then proposed that we ignore Ewen and freeze him out, pretend that he's 
not with us. "We're on the same side," I appealed to Laura. "Let's not fight. Given what's at 
stake, this won't be the last time that things happen beyond our control." I tried to persuade 
Laura that we should keep our focus on working together to overcome obstacles. In a short 
time, we returned to a state of calm. 

As we arrived in the vicinity of JFK Airport, Laura pulled a thumb drive out of her 
backpack. "Guess what this is?" she asked with a look of intense seriousness. 


"The documents," she said. "All of them." 

* * * 

Ewen was already at our gate when we arrived. Laura and I were cordial but cold, 
ensuring that he felt excluded, that he had no role until we were ready to give him one. He 
was the only present target for our irritation, so we treated him like extra baggage with which 
we had been saddled. It was unfair, but I was too distracted by the prospect of the treasures on 
Laura's thumb drive and the significance of what we were doing to give much more thought 
to Ewen. 

Laura had given me a five-minute tutorial on the secure computer system in the car 
and said she intended to sleep on the plane. She handed over the thumb drive and suggested 
that I start looking at her set of documents. Once we arrived in Hong Kong, she said, the 
source would ensure I had full access to my own complete set. 

After the plane took off, I pulled out my new air gapped computer, inserted Laura's 

thumb drive, and followed her instructions for loading the files. 

For the next sixteen hours, despite my exhaustion, I did nothing but read, feverishly 
taking notes on document after document. Many of the files were as powerful and shocking 
as that initial PRISM PowerPoint presentation I had seen back in Rio. A lot of them were 

One of the first I read was an order from the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance 
Act (FISA) court, which had been created by Congress in 1978, after the Church Committee 
discovered decades of abusive government eavesdropping. The idea behind its formation 
was that the government could continue to engage in electronic surveillance, but to prevent 
similar abuse, it had to obtain permission from the FISA court before doing so. I had never 
seen a FISA court order before. Almost nobody had. The court is one of the most secretive 
institutions in the government. All of its rulings are automatically designated top secret, and 
only a small handful of people are authorized to access its decisions. 

The ruling I read on the plane to Hong Kong was amazing for several reasons. It 
ordered Verizon Business to turn over to the NSA "all call detail records" for 
"communications (i) between the United States and abroad; and (ii) wholly within the United 
States, including local telephone calls." That meant the NSA was secretly and 
indiscriminately collecting the telephone records of tens of millions of Americans, at least. 
Virtually nobody had any idea that the Obama administration was doing any such thing. Now, 
with this ruling, I not only knew about it but had the secret court order as proof. 

Moreover, the court order specified that the bulk collection of American telephone 
records was authorized by Section 215 of the Patriot Act. Almost more than the ruling itself, 
this radical interpretation of the Patriot Act was especially shocking. 

What made the Patriot Act so controversial when it was enacted in the wake of the 
9/1 1 attack was that Section 215 lowered the standard the government needed to meet in 
order to obtain "business records," from "probable cause" to "relevance." This meant that the 
Federal Bureau of Investigation, in order to obtain highly sensitive and invasive 
documents — such as medical histories, banking transactions, or phone records — needed to 
demonstrate only that those documents were "relevant" to a pending investigation. 

But nobody — not even the hawkish Republican House members who authored the 
Patriot Act back in 2001 or the most devoted civil liberties advocates who depicted the bill in 
the most menacing light — thought that the law empowered the US government to collect 
records on everyone, in bulk and indiscriminately. Yet that's exactly what this secret FISA 
court order, open on my laptop as I flew to Hong Kong, had concluded when instructing 
Verizon to turn over to the NSA all phone records for all of its American customers. 

For two years Democratic senators Ron Wyden of Oregon and Mark Udall of New 
Mexico had been going around the country warning that Americans would be "stunned to 
learn" of the "secret interpretations of law" the Obama administration was using to vest itself 
with vast, unknown spying powers. But because these spying activities and "secret 
interpretations" were classified, the two senators, who were members of the Senate 
Intelligence Committee, had stopped short of disclosing to the public what they found so 
menacing, despite the legal shield of immunity granted to members of Congress by the 
Constitution to make such disclosures had they chosen to. 

I knew as soon as I saw the FISA court order that this was at least part of the abusive 
and radical surveillance programs Wyden and Udall had tried to warn the country about. I 
instantly recognized the order's significance. I could barely wait to publish it, sure that its 
exposure would trigger an earthquake, and that calls for transparency and accountability 

were sure to follow. And this was just one of hundreds of top secret documents I read on my 
way to Hong Kong. 

Yet again, I felt my perspective shift on the significance of the source's actions. This 
had already happened three times before: when I first saw the emails Laura had received, 
then again when I began speaking to the source, and yet again when I'd read the two dozen 
documents he sent by email. Only now did I feel that I was truly beginning to process the true 
magnitude of the leak. 

On several occasions on the flight, Laura came over to the row where I was sitting, 
which faced the bulkhead of the plane. As soon as I saw her, I would pop up out of my seat 
and we'd stand in the open space of the bulkhead, speechless, overwhelmed, stunned by what 
we had. 

Laura had been working for years on the subject of NSA surveillance, herself 
repeatedly subjected to its abuses. I had been writing about the threat posed by unconstrained 
domestic surveillance going back to 2006, when I published my first book, warning of the 
lawlessness and radicalism of the NSA. With this work, both of us had struggled against the 
great wall of secrecy shielding government spying: How do you document the actions of an 
agency so completely shrouded in multiple layers of official secrecy? At this moment, we 
had breached that wall. We had in our possession, on the plane, thousands of documents that 
the government had desperately tried to hide. We had evidence that would indisputably prove 
all that the government had done to destroy the privacy of Americans and people around the 

As I continued reading, two things struck me about the archive. The first was how 
extraordinarily well organized it was. The source had created countless folders and then 
sub-folders and sub-sub-folders. Every last document had been placed exactly where it 
belonged. I never found a single misplaced or misfiled document. 

I had spent years defending what I view as the heroic acts of Chelsea (then Bradley) 
Manning, the army private and whistle-blower who became so horrified at the behavior of 
the US government — its war crimes and other systematic deceit — that she risked her liberty 
to disclose classified documents to the world through WikiLeaks. But Manning was 
criticized (unfairly and inaccurately, I believe) for supposedly leaking documents that she 
had not first reviewed — in contrast to Daniel Ellsberg, the critics speculated. This argument, 
baseless though it was (Ellsberg was one of Manning's most devoted defenders, and it 
seemed clear that Manning had at least surveyed the documents), was frequently used to 
undermine the notion that Manning's actions were heroic. 

It was clear that nothing of the sort could be said about our NSA source. There was no 
question that he had carefully reviewed every document he had given us, that he had 
understood their meaning, then meticulously placed each one in an elegantly organized 

The other striking facet of the archive was the extent of government lying it revealed, 
evidence of which the source had prominently flagged. He had titled one of his first folders 
"BOUNDLESS INFORMANT (NSA lied to Congress)." This folder contained dozens of 
documents showing elaborate statistics maintained by the NSA on how many calls and 
emails the agency intercepts. It also contained proof that the NSA had been collecting 
telephone and email data about millions of Americans every day. BOUNDLESS 
INFORMANT was the name of the NSA program designed to quantify the agency's daily 
surveillance activities with mathematical exactitude. One map in the file showed that for a 
thirty-day period ending in February 2013, one unit of the NSA collected more than three 

billion pieces of communication data from US communication systems alone. 

The source had given us clear proof that NSA officials had lied to Congress, directly 
and repeatedly, about the agency's activities. For years, various senators had asked the NSA 
for a rough estimate of how many Americans were having their calls and emails intercepted. 
The officials insisted they were unable to answer because they did not and could not maintain 
such data: the very data extensively reflected in the "BOUNDLESS INFORMANT" 

Even more significant, the files — along with the Verizon document — suggested that 
the Obama administration's senior national security official, Director of National 
Intelligence James Clapper, lied to Congress when, on March 12, 2013, he was asked by 
Senator Ron Wyden: "Does the NSA collect any type of data at all on millions or hundreds of 
millions of Americans?" 

Clapper's reply was as succinct as it was dishonest: "No, sir." 

* * * 

In sixteen hours of barely interrupted reading, I managed to get through only a small 
fraction of the archive. But as the plane landed in Hong Kong, I knew two things for certain. 
First, the source was highly sophisticated and politically astute, evident in his recognition of 
the significance of most of the documents. He was also highly rational. The way he chose, 
analyzed, and described the thousands of documents I now had in my possession proved that. 
Second, it would be very difficult to deny his status as a classic whistle-blower. If disclosing 
proof that top-level national security officials lied outright to Congress about domestic 
spying programs doesn't make one indisputably a whistle-blower, then what does? 

I knew that the harder it would be for the government and its allies to demonize the 
source, the more powerful the effect of the source's disclosures would be. The two most 
favored lines of whistle-blower demonization — "he's unstable" and "he's naive" — were not 
going to work here. 

Shortly before landing, I read one final file. Although it was entitled 
"README_FIRST," I saw it for the first time only at the very end of the flight. This 
document was another explanation from the source for why he had chosen to do what he did 
and what he expected to happen as a result, and it was similar in tone and content to the 
manifesto I had shown the Guardian editors. 

But this document had facts the others did not. It included the source's name — the 
first time I learned it — along with clear predictions for what would likely be done to him once 
he identified himself. Referring to events that proceeded from the 2005 NSA scandal, the 
note ended this way: 

Many will malign me for failing to engage in national relativism, to look away from [my] 
society' s problems toward distant, external evils for which we hold neither authority nor 
responsibility, but citizenship carries with it a duty to first police one's own government 
before seeking to correct others. Here, now, at home, we suffer a government that only 
grudgingly allows limited oversight, and refuses accountability when crimes are committed. 
When marginalized youths commit minor infractions, we as a society turn a blind eye as they 
suffer insufferable consequences in the world's largest prison system, yet when the richest 
and most powerful telecommunications providers in the country knowingly commit tens of 
millions of felonies, Congress passes our nation's first law providing their elite friends with 
full retroactive immunity — civil and criminal — for crimes that would have merited the 
longest sentences in [] history.These companies . . . have the best lawyers in the country on 

their staff and they do not suffer even the slightest consequences. When officials at the 
highest levels of power, to specifically include the Vice President, are found on investigation 
to have personally directed such a criminal enterprise, what should happen? If you believe 
that investigation should be stopped, its results classified above-top-secret in a special 
"Exceptionally Controlled Information" compartment called STLW (STELLARWIND), any 
future investigations ruled out on the principle that holding those who abuse power to 
account is against the national interest, that we must "look forward, not backward," and 
rather than closing the illegal program you would expand it with even more authorities, you 
will be welcome in the halls of America's power, for that is what came to be, and I am 
releasing the documents that prove it.I understand that I will be made to suffer for my actions, 
and that the return of this information to the public marks my end. I will be satisfied if the 
federation of secret law, unequal pardon, and irresistible executive powers that rule the world 
that I love are revealed for even an instant. If you seek to help, join the open source 
community and fight to keep the spirit of the press alive and the Internet free. I have been to 
the darkest corners of government, and what they fear is light. 

Edward Joseph Snowden, SSN: 1MB CIA Alias " 1MB "Agency Identification 
Number: BBBBBJ Former Senior Advisor I United States National Security Agency, under 

corporate coverFormer Field Officer I United States Central Intelligence Agency, under 
diplomatic coverFormer Lecturer I United States Defense Intelligence Agency, under 

corporate cover 2 


We arrived in Hong Kong on Sunday night, June 2. The plan was that we would meet 
Snowden immediately after we arrived in our hotel. As soon I got to my room, at the W Hotel 
in the upscale Kowloon District, I turned on the computer and looked for him on the 
encrypted chat program we used. As was almost always the case, he was there, waiting. 

After exchanging a few pleasantries about the flight, we got down to the logistics of 
our meeting. "You can come to my hotel," he said. 

That was my first surprise, to learn that he was staying in a hotel. I still didn't know 
why he was in Hong Kong but assumed by this point that he had gone there to hide. I'd 
pictured him in some hovel, a cheap apartment where he could afford to go underground 
without a regular paycheck coming in, not comfortably installed in a hotel, out in the open, 
running up daily charges. 

Changing our plans, we decided it would be best to wait until the morning to meet. It 
was Snowden who made the decision, setting the hyper-cautious, cloak-and-dagger mood of 
the next few days. 

"You'll be more likely to draw attention to yourselves if you move around at night," 
he said. "It's strange behavior for two Americans to check into their hotel at night and then 
immediately go out. It'll be more natural if you come here in the morning." 

Snowden was worried as much about surveillance by Hong Kong and Chinese 
authorities as by the Americans. He was very concerned that we would be followed by local 
intelligence agents. Assuming he had some deep involvement with US spying agencies and 
knew what he was talking about, I deferred to his judgment but was disappointed that we 
wouldn't be meeting that night. 

With Hong Kong being exactly twelve hours ahead of New York, night and day were 
now reversed, so I hardly slept at all that night, nor at any other time during the trip. Jet lag 

was only partly to blame; in a state of barely controllable excitement, I was able to doze off 
for only ninety minutes or so, two hours at the most, and that remained my normal sleep 
pattern for the entire stay. 

The next morning, Laura and I met in the lobby and entered a waiting cab to go to 
Snowden's hotel. Laura was the one who had arranged the details of the meeting with him. 
She was very reluctant to speak in the taxi, fearing that the driver might be an undercover 
agent. I was no longer quite as quick as I might have been to dismiss such fears as paranoia. 
Despite the constraints, I pried enough out of Laura to understand the plan. 

We were to go to the third floor of Snowden's hotel, which was where the conference 
rooms were located. He had chosen a specific conference room for what he thought was its 
perfect balance: sufficiently isolated to discourage substantial "human traffic," as he called it, 
but not so obscure and hidden that we would attract attention while waiting there. 

Laura told me that once we got to the third floor, we were supposed to ask the first 
hotel employee we ran into near the designated room whether there was a restaurant open. 
The question would signal to Snowden, who would be hovering nearby, that we had not been 
followed. Inside the designated room, we were to wait on a couch near "a giant alligator," 
which, Laura confirmed, was some kind of room decoration rather than a live animal. 

We had two different meeting times: 10:00 and then 10:20. If Snowden failed to 
arrive within two minutes of the first time, we were to leave the room and come back later at 
the second time, when he would find us. 

"How will we know it's him?" I asked Laura. We still knew virtually nothing about 
him, not his age, race, physical appearance, or anything else. 

"He'll be carrying a Rubik's Cubed," she said. 

I laughed out loud: the situation seemed so bizarre, so extreme and improbable. This 
is a surreal international thriller set in Hong Kong, I thought. 

Our taxi dropped us at the entrance to the Mira Hotel, which, I noted, was also located 
in the Kowloon District, a highly commercial neighborhood filled with sleek high-rises and 
chic stores: as visible as it gets. Entering the lobby, I was taken aback all over again: 
Snowden wasn't staying in just any hotel, but in a sprawling high-priced one, which I knew 
must cost several hundred dollars a night. Why, I wondered, would someone who intended to 
blow the whistle on the NSA, and who needed great secrecy, go to Hong Kong to hide in a 
five-star hotel in one of the most visible neighborhoods in the city? There was no point at that 
moment in dwelling on the mystery — I'd be meeting the source within a matter of minutes 
and presumably would have all the answers. 

Like many Hong Kong buildings, the Mira Hotel was the size of a village. Laura and 
I spent at least fifteen minutes searching the cavernous hallways for our designated meeting 
spot. We had to take multiple elevators, cross internal bridges, and repeatedly ask for 
directions. When we thought we were close to the room, we saw a hotel employee. 
Somewhat awkwardly, I asked the coded question, and we listened to instructions about 
various restaurant options. 

Turning a corner, we saw an open door and a huge, green, plastic alligator lying 
across the floor. As instructed, we sat on the couch that was stranded in the middle of this 
otherwise empty room, waiting nervously and in silence. The small room appeared to have 
no real function, no reason for anybody to enter it, as there was nothing in it but the couch and 
the alligator. After five very long minutes of sitting in silence, nobody came, so we left and 
found another room nearby where we waited another fifteen minutes. 

At 10:20, we returned and again took our place near the alligator, on the couch, which 

faced the back wall of the room and a large mirror. After two minutes, I heard someone come 
into the room. 

Rather than turn around to see who had entered, I continued to stare at the back wall 
mirror, which showed a man's reflection walking toward us. Only when he was within a few 
feet of the couch did I turn around. 

The first thing I saw was the unsolved Rubik's Cube, twirling in the man's left hand. 
Edward Snowden said hello but did not extend his hand to shake, as the point of the 
arrangement was to make this encounter appear to be random. As they had planned, Laura 
asked him about the food in the hotel and he replied that it was bad. Of all the surprising turns 
in this entire story, the moment of our meeting proved to be the biggest surprise of all. 

Snowden was twenty-nine years old at the time, but he appeared at least several years 
younger, dressed in a white T-shirt with some faded lettering, jeans, and chic-nerd glasses. 
He had a weak goatee of stubble but looked like he had only recently started shaving. He was 
basically clean-cut and his posture military-firm, but he was quite thin and pale, and — like all 
three of us at that moment — clearly somewhat guarded and cautious. He could have been any 
mildly geeky guy in his early to mid-twenties working in a computer lab on a college 

In the moment, I simply couldn't put the pieces together. Without having consciously 
thought about it, I had assumed for a number of reasons that Snowden was older, probably in 
his fifties or sixties. First, given the fact that he had access to so many sensitive documents, I 
had presumed he held a senior position within the national security system. Beyond that, his 
insights and strategies were invariably sophisticated and informed, leading me to believe he 
was a veteran of the political scene. Last, I knew he was prepared to throw his life away, 
probably spending the rest of it in prison, to disclose what he felt the world must know, so I 
imagined he was near the end of his career. For someone to arrive at so extreme and 
self-sacrificing a decision, I figured, he must have experienced many years, even decades, of 
profound disillusionment. 

To see that the source of the astonishing cache of NSA material was a man so young 
was one of the most disorienting experiences I have ever had. My mind began racing to 
consider the possibilities: Was this some sort of fraud? Had I wasted my time flying across 
the world? How could someone this young possibly have access to the type of information 
we had seen? How could this person be as savvy and experienced in intelligence and spycraft 
as our source clearly was? Maybe, I thought, this was the source's son, or assistant, or lover, 
who was now going to take us to the source himself. Every conceivable possibility flooded 
my mind, and none of them made any real sense. 

"So, come with me," he said, obviously tense. Laura and I followed him. We all 
muttered a few incoherent words of pleasantries as we walked. I was too stunned and 
confused to speak much, and I could see that Laura felt the same way. Snowden seemed very 
vigilant, as though he were searching for potential watchers or other signs of trouble. So we 
followed him, mostly in silence. 

With no idea where he was taking us, we entered the elevator, got off on the tenth 
floor, and then made our way to his room. Snowden pulled out a card key from his wallet and 
opened the door. "Welcome," he said. "Sorry it's a bit messy, but I basically haven't left the 
room in a couple of weeks." 

The room was indeed messy, with plates of half-eaten room-service food piled up on 
the table and dirty clothes strewn about. Snowden cleared off a chair and invited me to sit 
down. He then sat on his bed. Because the room was small, we were sitting less than five feet 

apart. Our conversation was tense, awkward, and stilted. 

Snowden immediately raised issues of security, asking whether I had a cell phone. 
My phone only worked in Brazil, but Snowden nonetheless insisted that I remove the battery 
or place it in the refrigerator of his minibar, which would at least muffle conversations, 
making them more difficult to overhear. 

Just as Laura had told me back in April, Snowden said the US government has the 
capability to remotely activate cell phones and convert them into listening devices. So I knew 
that the technology existed but still chalked up their concerns to borderline paranoia. As it 
turned out, I was the one who was misguided. The government has used this tactic in criminal 
investigations for years. In 2006, a federal judge presiding over the criminal prosecution of 
alleged New York mobsters had ruled that the FBI's use of so-called roving bugs — turning a 
person's own cell phone into a listening device through remote activation — was legal. 

Once my cell phone was safely sealed in the refrigerator, Snowden took the pillows 
from his bed and placed them at the bottom of the door. "That's for passersby in the 
hallway," he explained. "There may be room audio and cameras, but what we're about to 
discuss is all going on the news anyway," he said, only half joking. 

My ability to assess any of this was very limited. I still had very little idea of who 
Snowden was, where he worked, what truly motivated him, or what he had done, so I 
couldn't be sure what threats might be lurking, of surveillance or any other kind. My one 
consistent feeling was uncertainty. 

Without bothering to sit down or say anything, Laura, perhaps to relieve her own 
tension, began unpacking her camera and tripod and setting them up. She then came over and 
put microphones on both Snowden and me. 

We had discussed her plan to film us while in Hong Kong: she was, after all, a 
documentarian working on a film about the NSA. Inevitably, what we were doing would 
become a huge part of her project. I knew that, but I hadn't been prepared for the recording to 
begin quite so soon. There was great cognitive dissonance between, on one hand, meeting so 
covertly with a source who, to the US government, had committed serious crimes and, on the 
other, filming it all. 

Laura was ready in a matter of minutes. "So I'm going to begin filming now," she 
announced, as though it was the most natural thing in the world. The realization that we were 
about to be taped heightened the tension even more. 

That initial interaction between Snowden and myself was already awkward, but as 
soon as the camera began rolling, we both became instantly more formal and less friendly; 
our posture stiffened and our speech slowed down. Over the years, I've given many speeches 
about how surveillance changes human behavior, highlighting studies showing that people 
who know they are being watched are more confined, more cautious about what they say, 
less free. Now I saw and felt a vivid illustration of that dynamic. 

Given the futility of our attempts at exchanging pleasantries, there was nothing to do 
but plunge right in. "I have a lot of questions for you, and I'm just going to start asking them, 
one by one, and, if that's OK with you, we can go from there," I began. 

"That's fine," Snowden said, clearly as relieved as I was to get down to business. 

I had two primary goals at that point. Because we all knew there was a serious risk 
that he could be arrested at anytime, my urgent priority was to learn everything I could about 
Snowden: his life, his jobs, what led him to the extraordinary choice he had made, what he 
had done specifically to take those documents and why, and what he was doing in Hong 
Kong. Second, I was determined to figure out whether he was honest and fully forthcoming 

or whether he was hiding important things about who he was and what he had done. 

Although I had been a political writer for almost eight years, the more relevant 
experience for what I was about to do was my prior career as a litigator, which included 
taking depositions of witnesses. In a deposition, the lawyer sits across a table with a witness 
for hours, sometimes days. The witness is forced by law to be there and required to answer 
every one of your questions honestly. A key goal is to expose lies, find inconsistencies in the 
witness's story, and break through any fiction the witness has created in order to let the 
concealed truth emerge. Taking depositions was one of the few things I really liked about 
being a lawyer, and I had developed all sorts of tactics for breaking down a witness. They 
always involved a relentless barrage of questions, often the same questions asked repeatedly 
but in different contexts, from different directions and angles, to test the solidity of the story. 

Shifting from my stance with Snowden online, where I had been willing to be passive 
and deferential, these were the aggressive tactics I used that day. Without so much as a 
bathroom break or a snack, I spent five straight hours questioning him. I started with his early 
childhood, his grade school experiences, his pre-government work history. I demanded every 
detail he could recall. Snowden, I learned, had been born in North Carolina and grew up in 
Maryland, the son of lower-middle-class federal government employees (his father had been 
in the Coast Guard for thirty years). Snowden felt deeply unchallenged in high school and 
never finished, far more interested in the Internet than in classes. 

Almost instantly, I could see in person what I had observed from our online chats: 
Snowden was highly intelligent and rational, and his thought processes methodical. His 
answers were crisp, clear, and cogent. In virtually every case, they were directly responsive 
to what I had asked, thoughtful, and deliberative. There were no strange detours or wildly 
improbable stories of the type that are the hallmark of emotionally unstable people or those 
suffering from psychological afflictions. His stability and focus instilled confidence. 

Although we readily form impressions of people from online interactions, we still 
need to meet in person to develop a reliable sense of who they are. I quickly felt better about 
the situation, recovering from my initial doubts and disorientation about whom I was dealing 
with. But I still remained intensely skeptical because I knew the credibility of everything we 
were about to do depended on the reliability of Snowden' s claims about who he was. 

We spent several hours on his work history and intellectual evolution. As with so 
many Americans, Snowden' s political views had changed significantly after the 9/1 1 attack: 
he became much more "patriotic." In 2004, at twenty, he had enlisted in the US Army 
intending to fight in the Iraq War, which he thought at the time was a noble effort to free the 
Iraqi people from oppression. After only a few weeks in basic training, however, he saw that 
there was more talk of killing Arabs than liberating anyone. By the time both of his legs were 
broken in a training accident and he was forced to leave the military, he had become highly 
disillusioned about the real purpose of the war. 

But Snowden still believed in the core goodness of the United States government, so 
he decided to follow the example of many of his family members and went to work for a 
federal agency. With no high school degree, he had nonetheless managed in early adulthood 
to create opportunities for himself, including paid technical work at thirty dollars an hour 
before he turned eighteen, and he had been a Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer since 
2002. But he viewed a career in the federal government as something both noble and 
professionally promising, so he started as a security guard at the Center for Advanced Study 
of Language at the University of Maryland, a building secretly managed and used by the 
NSA. The intention, he said, was to get top secret clearance and thus get his foot in the door 

to then do technical work. 

Although Snowden was a high school dropout, he had a natural talent for technology 
that became evident in his early adolescence. Combined with his obvious intelligence, those 
attributes, despite his young age and lack of formal education, enabled him to advance 
quickly in his jobs, moving rapidly from security guard to a position in 2005 as a technical 
expert for the CIA. 

He explained that the entire intelligence community was desperate for tech-savvy 
employees. It had transformed itself into such a large and sprawling system that finding 
enough people capable of operating it was hard. Thus the national security agencies had to 
turn to nontraditional talent pools to recruit. People with sufficiently advanced computer 
skills tended to be young and sometimes alienated, and had often failed to shine in 
mainstream education. They often found Internet culture far more stimulating than formal 
educational institutions and personal interactions. Snowden became a valued member of his 
IT team at the agency, clearly more knowledgeable and proficient than most of his older, 
college-educated colleagues. Snowden felt that he had found exactly the right environment in 
which his skills would be rewarded and his lack of academic credentials ignored. 

In 2006, he transitioned from being a contractor with the CIA to full-time staff, which 
increased his opportunities further. In 2007, he learned of a CIA job posting that entailed 
working on computer systems while being stationed overseas. Boasting glowing 
recommendations from his managers, he got the job and eventually ended up working for the 
CIA in Switzerland. He was stationed in Geneva for three years, through 2010, deployed 
there undercover with diplomatic credentials. 

As Snowden described his work in Geneva, he was far more than a mere "systems 
administrator." He was considered the top technical and cybersecurity expert in Switzerland, 
ordered to travel throughout the region to fix problems nobody else could. He was 
hand-picked by the CIA to support the president at the 2008 NATO summit in Romania. 
Despite this success, it was during his stint with the CIA that Snowden began to feel seriously 
troubled by his government's actions. 

"Because of the access technical experts have to computer systems, I saw a lot of 
secret things," Snowden told me, "and many of them were quite bad. I began to understand 
that what my government really does in the world is very different from what I'd always been 
taught. That recognition in turn leads you to start reevaluating how you look at things, to 
question things more." 

One example he recounted was an attempt by CIA case officers to recruit a Swiss 
banker to provide confidential information. They wanted to know about the financial 
transactions of people of interest to the United States. Snowden recounted how one of the 
undercover officers befriended the banker, got him drunk one night, and encouraged him to 
drive home. When the banker was stopped by the police and arrested for DUI, the CIA agent 
offered to help him personally in a variety of ways, provided that the banker cooperated with 
the agency. The recruitment effort ultimately failed. "They destroyed the target's life for 
something that didn't even work out, and simply walked away," he said. Beyond the scheme 
itself, Snowden was disturbed by how the agent bragged about the methods used to reel in his 

An added element of frustration came from Snowden' s efforts to make his superiors 
aware of problems in computer security or systems he thought skirted ethical lines. Those 
efforts, he said, were almost always rebuffed. 

"They would say this isn't your job, or you'd be told you don't have enough 

information to make those kinds of judgments. You'd basically be instructed not to worry 
about it," he said. He developed a reputation among colleagues as someone who raised too 
many concerns, a trait that did not endear him to superiors. "This was when I really started 
seeing how easy it is to divorce power from accountability, and how the higher the levels of 
power, the less oversight and accountability there was." 

Near the end of 2009, Snowden, now disillusioned, decided he was ready to leave the 
CIA. It was at this stage, at the end of his stint in Geneva, that he first began to contemplate 
becoming a whistle-blower and leaking secrets that he believed revealed wrongdoing. 

"Why didn't you do it then?" I asked. 

At the time he thought or at least hoped that the election of Barack Obama as 
president would reform some of the worst abuses he had seen. Obama entered office vowing 
to change the excessive abuses of national security that had been justified by the War on 
Terror. Snowden expected that at least some of the roughest edges of the intelligence and 
military world would be smoothed over. 

"But then it became clear that Obama was not just continuing, but in many cases 
expanding these abuses," he said. "I realized then that I couldn't wait for a leader to fix these 
things. Leadership is about acting first and serving as an example for others, not waiting for 
others to act." 

He was also concerned about the damage that would result from disclosing what he 
had learned at the CIA. "When you leak the CIA's secrets, you can harm people," he said, 
referring to covert agents and informants. "I wasn't willing to do that. But when you leak the 
NSA's secrets, you only harm abusive systems. I was much more comfortable with that." 

So Snowden returned to the NSA, this time working for the Dell Corporation, which 
contracted with the agency. In 2010, he was stationed in Japan and given a much higher 
degree of access to surveillance secrets than he previously had. 

"The stuff I saw really began to disturb me," Snowden said. "I could watch drones in 
real time as they surveilled the people they might kill. You could watch entire villages and 
see what everyone was doing. I watched NSA tracking people's Internet activities as they 
typed. I became aware of just how invasive US surveillance capabilities had become. I 
realized the true breadth of this system. And almost nobody knew it was happening." 

The perceived need, the obligation, to leak what he was seeing felt increasingly 
urgent to him. "The more time I spent at the NSA in Japan, the more I knew that I couldn't 
keep it all to myself. I felt it would be wrong to, in effect, help conceal all of this from the 

Later, once Snowden' s identity was revealed, reporters tried to depict him as some 
sort of simple-minded, low-level IT guy who happened to stumble into classified information. 
But the reality was far different. 

Throughout his work at both the CIA and NSA, Snowden told me, he was 
progressively trained to become a high-level cyber operative, someone who hacks into the 
military and civilian systems of other countries, to steal information or prepare attacks 
without leaving a trace. In Japan, that training intensified. He became adept at the most 
sophisticated methods for safeguarding electronic data from other intelligence agencies and 
was formally certified as a high-level cyber operative. He was ultimately chosen by the 
Defense Intelligence Agency's Joint Counterintelligence Training Academy to teach cyber 
counterintelligence at their Chinese counterintelligence course. 

The operational security methods he insisted we follow were ones he learned and 
even helped design at the CIA and especially the NSA. 

In July 2013 the New York Times confirmed what Snowden had told me, reporting 
that "while working for a National Security Agency contractor, Edward J. Snowden learned 
to be a hacker" and that "he had transformed himself into the kind of cybersecurity expert the 
N.S.A. is desperate to recruit." The training he received there, said the New York Times, was 
"pivotal in his shift toward more sophisticated cybersecurity." The article added that the files 
Snowden accessed showed that he had "shifted to the offensive side of electronic spying or 
cyberwarfare, in which the N.S.A. examines other nations' computer systems to steal 
information or to prepare attacks." 

Although I tried to adhere to the chronology in my questioning, I often couldn't resist 
jumping ahead, mostly out of eagerness. I particularly wanted to get to the heart of what, for 
me, had been the most amazing mystery since I began speaking to him: What had really 
driven Snowden to throw away his career, turn himself into a potential felon, and breach the 
demands of secrecy and loyalty that had been drummed into his head for years? 

I asked this same question in many different ways, and Snowden thus answered in 
many different ways, but the explanations felt either too superficial, too abstract, or too 
devoid of passion and conviction. He was very comfortable talking about NSA systems and 
technology, but clearly less so when he himself was the subject, particularly in response to 
the suggestion that he had done something courageous and extraordinary that warranted a 
psychological explanation. His answers seemed more abstract than visceral, and so I found 
them unconvincing. The world had a right to know what was being done to its privacy, he 
said; he felt a moral obligation to take a stand against wrongdoing; he could not in good 
conscience remain silent about the hidden threat to the values he cherished. 

I believed those political values were real to him, but I wanted to know what had 
driven him personally to sacrifice his life and liberty in defense of those values, and I felt I 
wasn't getting the true answer. Maybe he didn't have the answer, or maybe, like many 
American men, especially when immersed in a national security culture, he was reluctant to 
dig too deep into his own psyche, but I had to know. 

Apart from anything else, I wanted to be sure he had made his choice with a genuine 
and rational understanding of the consequences: I was unwilling to help him take so great a 
risk unless I was convinced he was doing so with full autonomy and agency, with a real grasp 
of his purpose. 

Finally, Snowden gave me an answer that felt vibrant and real. "The true 
measurement of a person's worth isn't what they say they believe in, but what they do in 
defense of those beliefs," he said. "If you're not acting on your beliefs, then they probably 
aren't real." 

How had he developed this measure for assessing his worth? Where did he derive this 
belief that he could only be acting morally if he was willing to sacrifice his own interests for 
the sake of the greater good? 

"From a lot of different places, a lot of experiences," Snowden said. He had grown up 
reading large amounts of Greek mythology and was influenced by Joseph Campbell's The 
Hero with a Thousand Faces, which, he noted, "finds common threads among the stories we 
all share." The primary lesson he took away from that the book was that "it is we who infuse 
life with meaning through our actions and the stories we create with them." People are only 
that which their actions define them as being. "I don't want to be a person who remains afraid 
to act in defense of my principles." 

This theme, this moral construct for evaluating one's identity and worth, was one he 
repeatedly encountered on his intellectual path, including, he explained with a hint of 

embarrassment, from video games. The lesson Snowden had learned from immersion in 
video games, he said, was that just one person, even the most powerless, can confront great 
injustice. "The protagonist is often an ordinary person, who finds himself faced with grave 
injustices from powerful forces and has the choice to flee in fear or to fight for his beliefs. 
And history also shows that seemingly ordinary people who are sufficiently resolute about 
justice can triumph over the most formidable adversaries." 

He wasn't the first person I'd heard claiming video games had been instrumental in 
shaping their worldview. Years earlier, I might have scoffed, but I'd come to accept that, for 
Snowden' s generation, they played no less serious a role in molding political consciousness, 
moral reasoning, and an understanding of one's place in the world than literature, television, 
and film. They, too, often present complex moral dilemmas and provoke contemplation, 
especially for people beginning to question what they've been taught. 

Snowden' s early moral reasoning — drawn from work that formed, as he said, "a 
model for who we want to become, and why" — had evolved into serious adult introspection 
about ethical obligations and psychological limits. "What keeps a person passive and 
compliant," he explained, "is fear of repercussions, but once you let go of your attachment to 
things that don't ultimately matter — money, career, physical safety — you can overcome that 

Equally central to his worldview was the unprecedented value of the Internet. As for 
many of his generation, "the Internet" for him wasn't some isolated tool to use for discrete 
tasks. It was the world in which his mind and personality developed, a place unto itself that 
offered freedom, exploration, and the potential for intellectual growth and understanding. 

To Snowden, the unique qualities of the Internet were incomparably valuable, to be 
preserved at all costs. He had used the Internet as a teenager to explore ideas and speak with 
people in faraway places and from radically different backgrounds whom he'd never 
otherwise have encountered. "Basically, the Internet allowed me to experience freedom and 
explore my full capacity as a human being." Clearly animated, even passionate, when talking 
about the value of the Internet, Snowden added, "For many kids, the Internet is a means of 
self-actualization. It allows them to explore who they are and who they want to be, but that 
works only if we're able to be private and anonymous, to make mistakes without them 
following us. I worry that mine was the last generation to enjoy that freedom." 

The role this played in his decision became clear to me. "I do not want to live in a 
world where we have no privacy and no freedom, where the unique value of the Internet is 
snuffed out," Snowden told me. He felt compelled to do what he could to stop that from 
happening or, more accurately, to enable others to make the choice whether to act or not in 
defense of those values. 

Along those lines, Snowden repeatedly emphasized that his goal was not to destroy 
the NSA's capability to eliminate privacy. "It's not my role to make that choice," he said. 
Instead, he wanted American citizens and people around the world to know about what was 
being done to their privacy, to give them the information. "I don't intend to destroy these 
systems," he insisted, "but to allow the public to decide whether they should go on." 

Often, whistle-blowers like Snowden are demonized as loners or losers, acting not 
out of conscience but alienation and frustration at a failed life. Snowden was the opposite: he 
had a life filled with the things people view as most valuable. His decision to leak the 
documents meant giving up a long-term girlfriend whom he loved, a life in the paradise of 
Hawaii, a supportive family, a stable career, a lucrative paycheck, a life ahead full of 
possibilities of every type. 

After Snowden's NSA stint in Japan ended in 201 1, he went to work again for the 
Dell Corporation, this time deployed to a CIA office in Maryland. With bonuses, he was on 
track to make in the range of $200,000 that year, working with Microsoft and other tech 
companies to build secure systems for the CIA and other agencies to store documents and 
data. "The world was getting worse," said Snowden of that time. "In that position, I saw 
firsthand that the state, especially the NSA, was working hand in hand with the private tech 
industry to get full access to people's communications." 

Throughout the five hours of questioning that day — indeed, for the entire time I spoke 
with him in Hong Kong — Snowden's tone was almost always stoic, calm, matter-of-fact. But 
as he explained what he had discovered that finally moved him to action, he became 
impassioned, even slightly agitated. "I realized," he said, "that they were building a system 
whose goal was the elimination of all privacy, globally. To make it so that no one could 
communicate electronically without the NSA being able to collect, store, and analyze the 

It was that realization that fixed Snowden's determination to become a 
whistle-blower. In 2012, he was transferred by Dell from Maryland to Hawaii. He spent parts 
of 2012 downloading the documents he thought the world should see. He took certain other 
documents not for publication, but so that journalists would be able to understand the context 
of the systems on which they were reporting. 

In early 2013, he realized that there was one set of documents he needed to complete 
the picture he wanted to present to the world that he could not access while at Dell. They 
would be accessible only if he obtained a different position, one where he would be formally 
assigned as an infrastructure analyst, allowing him to go all the way into the raw surveillance 
repositories of the NSA. 

With this goal in mind, Snowden applied for a job opening in Hawaii with Booz Allen 
Hamilton, one of the nation's largest and most powerful private defense contractors, filled 
with former government officials. He took a pay cut to get that job, as it gave him access to 
download the final set of files he felt he needed to complete the picture of NSA spying. Most 
important, that access allowed him to collect information on the NSA's secret monitoring of 
the entire telecommunications infrastructure inside the United States. 

In mid-May of 2013, Snowden requested a couple of weeks off to receive treatment 
for epilepsy, a condition he learned that he had the year before. He packed his bags, including 
several thumb drives full of NSA documents, along with four empty laptops to use for 
different purposes. He did not tell his girlfriend where he was going; it was, in fact, common 
for him to travel for work without being able to tell her his destination. He wanted to keep her 
unaware of his plans, in order to avoid exposing her to government harassment once his 
identity was revealed. 

He arrived in Hong Kong from Hawaii on May 20, checking into the Mira Hotel 
under his own name, and he had been there ever since. 

Snowden was staying at the hotel quite openly, paying with his credit card because, 
he explained, he knew that his movements would ultimately be scrutinized by the 
government, the media, and virtually everyone else. He wanted to prevent any claim that he 
was some type of a foreign agent, which would be easier to make had he spent this period in 
hiding. He had set out to demonstrate, he said, that his movements could be accounted for, 
there was no conspiracy, and he was acting alone. To the Hong Kong and Chinese authorities, 
he looked like a normal businessman, not someone skulking off the grid. "I'm not planning to 
hide what or who I am," he said, "so I have no reason to go into hiding and feed conspiracy 

theories or demonization campaigns." 

Then I asked the question that had been on my mind since we first spoke online: Why 
had he chosen Hong Kong as his destination once he was ready to disclose the documents? 
Characteristically, Snowden's answer showed that the decision was based on careful 

His first priority, he said, was to ensure his physical safety from US interference as he 
worked with Laura and me on the documents. If the American authorities discovered his plan 
to leak the documents, they would try to stop him, arresting him or worse. Hong Kong, 
though semi-independent, was part of Chinese territory, he reasoned, and American agents 
would find it harder to operate against him there than in the other places he considered as 
candidates for seeking ultimate refuge, such as a small Latin American nation like Ecuador 
or Bolivia. Hong Kong would also be more willing and able to resist US pressure to turn him 
over than a small European nation, such as Iceland. 

Though getting the documents out to the public was Snowden's main consideration in 
the choice of destination, it was not the only one. He also wanted to be in a place where the 
people had a commitment to political values that were important to him. As he explained, the 
people of Hong Kong, though ultimately subject to the repressive rule of the Chinese 
government, had fought to preserve some basic political freedoms and created a vibrant 
climate of dissent. Snowden pointed out that Hong Kong had democratically elected leaders 
and was also the site of large street protests, including an annual march against the 
Tiananmen Square crackdown. 

There were other places he could have gone to, affording even greater protection 
from potential US action, including mainland China. And there were certainly countries that 
enjoyed more political freedom. But Hong Kong, he felt, provided the best mix of physical 
security and political strength. 

To be sure, there were drawbacks to the decision, and Snowden was aware of them all, 
including the city's relationship to mainland China, which would give critics an easy way to 
demonize him. But there were no perfect choices. "All of my options are bad ones," he often 
said, and Hong Kong did indeed provide him a measure of security and freedom of 
movement that would have been difficult to replicate elsewhere. 

Once I had all the facts of the story, I had one more goal: to be sure that Snowden 
understood what would likely happen to him once his identity was revealed as the source 
behind the disclosures. 

The Obama administration had waged what people across the political spectrum were 
calling an unprecedented war on whistle-blowers. The president, who had campaigned on a 
vow to have the "most transparent administration in history," specifically pledging to protect 
whistleblowers, whom he hailed as "noble" and "courageous," had done exactly the opposite. 

Obama' s administration has prosecuted more government leakers under the 
Espionage Act of 1917 — a total of seven — than all previous administrations in US history 
combined: in fact, more than double that total. The Espionage Act was adopted during World 
War I to enable Woodrow Wilson to criminalize dissent against the war, and its sanctions are 
severe: they include life in prison and even the death penalty. 

Without question, the full weight of the law would come crashing down on Snowden. 
The Obama Justice Department would charge him with crimes that could send him to prison 
for life and he could expect to be widely denounced as a traitor. 

"What do you think will happen to you once you reveal yourself as the source?" I 


Snowden answered in a rapid clip that made clear he had contemplated this question 
many times before: "They'll say I violated the Espionage Act. That I committed grave crimes. 
That I aided America's enemies. That I endangered national security. I'm sure they'll grab 
every incident they can from my past, and probably will exaggerate or even fabricate some, 
to demonize me as much as possible." 

He did not want to go to prison, he said. "I'm going to try not to. But if that's the 
outcome from all of this, and I know there's a huge chance that it will be, I decided a while 
ago that I can live with whatever they do to me. The only thing I can't live with is knowing I 
did nothing." 

That first day and every day since, Snowden' s resolution and calm contemplation of 
what might happen to him have been profoundly surprising and affecting. I have never seen 
him display an iota of regret or fear or anxiety. He explained unblinkingly that he had made 
his choice, understood the possible consequences, and was prepared to accept them. 

Snowden seemed to derive a sense of strength from having made this decision. He 
exuded an extraordinary equanimity when talking about what the US government might do to 
him. The sight of this twenty-nine-year-old young man responding this way to the threat of 
decades, or life, in a super-max prison — a prospect that, by design, would scare almost 
anyone into paralysis — was deeply inspiring. And his courage was contagious: Laura and I 
vowed to each other repeatedly and to Snowden that every action we would take and every 
decision we would make from that point forward would honor his choice. I felt a duty to 
report the story in the spirit that had animated Snowden' s original act: fearlessness rooted in 
the conviction of doing what one believes is right, and a refusal to be intimidated or deterred 
by baseless threats from malevolent officials eager to conceal their own actions. 

After five hours of questioning, I was convinced beyond any doubt that all of 
Snowden' s claims were authentic and his motives were considered and genuine. Before we 
left him, he returned to the point he had already raised many times: he insisted on identifying 
himself as the source for the documents, and doing so publicly in the first article we 
published. "Anyone who does something this significant has the obligation to explain to the 
public why he did it and what he hopes to achieve," he said. He also did not want to heighten 
the climate of fear the US government had fostered by hiding. 

Besides, Snowden was sure that the NSA and FBI would quickly pinpoint the source 
of the leaks once our stories started appearing. He had not taken all possible steps to cover his 
tracks because he did not want his colleagues to be subjected to investigations or false 
accusations. He insisted that, using the skills he had acquired and given the incredibly lax 
NSA systems, he could have covered his tracks had he chosen to do so, even downloading as 
many top secret documents as he had done. But he had chosen instead to leave at least some 
electronic footprints to be discovered, which meant that remaining hidden was no longer an 

Although I did not want to help the government learn the identity of my source by 
revealing him, Snowden convinced me that discovery of his identity was inevitable. More 
important, he was determined to define himself in the eyes of the public rather than allow the 
government to define him. 

Snowden' s only fear about outing himself was that he would distract from the 
substance of his revelations. "I know the media personalizes everything, and the government 
will want to make me the story, to attack the messenger," he said. His plan was to identify 
himself early on, and then disappear from view to allow the focus to remain fixed on the NSA 
and its spying activities. "Once I identify and explain myself," he said, "I won't do any media. 

I don't want to be the story." 

I argued that rather than revealing Snowden's identity in the first article, we should 
wait for one week so that we could report the initial set of stories without that distraction. Our 
idea was simple: to churn out one huge story after the next, every day, a journalistic version 
of shock and awe, beginning as soon as possible and culminating with unveiling our source. 

At the end of our meeting that first day, we were all in agreement; we had a plan. 

* * * 

For the remainder of my time in Hong Kong, I met and spoke with Snowden every 
day at length. I never slept more than two hours in any night, and even that was possible only 
with the use of sleeping aids. The rest of my time was spent writing articles based on 
Snowden's documents and, once they started publishing, doing interviews to discuss them. 

Snowden left it up to Laura and me to decide which stories should be reported, in 
what sequence, and how they would be presented. But on the first day, Snowden — as he did 
on many occasions both before and since — stressed how urgent it was that we vet all the 
material carefully. "I selected these documents based on what's in the public interest," he 
told us, "but I'm relying on you to use your journalistic judgment to only publish those 
documents that the public should see and that can be revealed without harm to any innocent 
people." If for no other reason, Snowden knew that our ability to generate a real public debate 
depended on not allowing the US government any valid claims that we had endangered lives 
through publishing the documents. 

He also stressed that it was vital to publish the documents journalistically — meaning 
working with the media and writing articles that provided the context for the materials, rather 
than just publishing them in bulk. That approach, he believed, would provide more legal 
protection, and, more important, would allow the public to process the revelations in a more 
orderly and rational way. "If I wanted the documents just put on the Internet en masse, I 
could have done that myself," he said. "I want you to make sure these stories are done, one by 
one, so that people can understand what they should know." We all agreed that this 
framework would govern how we reported. 

On several occasions, Snowden explained that he had wanted Laura and me to be 
involved in the stories from the start because he knew we would report them aggressively and 
not be susceptible to government threats. He frequently referred to the New York Times and 
other major media outlets that had held up big stories at the government's request. But while 
he wanted aggressive reporting, he also wanted meticulous journalists to take as long as 
necessary to ensure that the facts of the story were unassailable and that all of the articles had 
been thoroughly vetted. "Some of the documents I'm giving you are not for publication, but 
for your own understanding of how this system works so you can report the right way," he 

After my first full day in Hong Kong, I left Snowden's hotel room, returned to my 
own, and stayed up all night to write four articles, hoping the Guardian would start 
publishing them immediately. There was some urgency: we needed Snowden to review with 
us as many documents as we could before he became, one way or another, unavailable to 
speak further. 

There was another source of urgency, too. In the cab on the way to JFK Airport, 
Laura had told me that she had spoken with several large media outlets and reporters about 
Snowden's documents. 

Included among them was Barton Gellman, the two-time Pulitzer Prize winner who 

had been on the staff at the Washington Post and now worked with the paper on a freelance 
basis. Laura had difficulty convincing people to travel with her to Hong Kong, but Gellman, 
who had long had an interest in surveillance issues, was very interested in the story. 

On Laura's recommendation, Snowden had agreed to have "some documents" given 
to Gellman, with the intention that he and the Post, along with Laura, would report on certain 
specific revelations. 

I respected Gellman but not the Washington Post, which, to me, is the belly of the 
Beltway media beast, embodying all the worst attributes of US political media: excessive 
closeness to the government, reverence for the institutions of the national security state, 
routine exclusion of dissenting voices. The paper's own media critic, Howard Kurtz, had 
documented in 2004 how the paper had systematically amplified pro-war voices in the run-up 
to the invasion of Iraq while downplaying or excluding opposition. The Post's news 
coverage, concluded Kurtz, had been "strikingly one-sided" in favor of the invasion. The 
Post editorial page in my opinion remained one of the most vociferous and mindless 
cheerleaders for US militarism, secrecy, and surveillance. 

The Post had been handed a major scoop that it had not worked to obtain and which 
the source — Snowden — had not selected (but had consented to on Laura's recommendation). 
Indeed, my first encrypted chat with Snowden arose out of his anger over the Post's 
fear-driven approach. 

One of my few criticisms of WikiLeaks over the years had been that they, too, had at 
times similarly handed major scoops to the very establishment media organizations that do 
the most to protect the government, thereby enhancing their stature and importance. 
Exclusive scoops on top secret documents uniquely elevate a publication's status and 
empower the journalist who breaks the news. It makes much more sense to give such scoops 
to independent journalists and media organizations, thereby amplifying their voices, raising 
their profile, and maximizing their impact. 

Worse, I knew that the Post would dutifully abide by the unwritten protective rules 
that govern how the establishment media report on official secrets. According to these rules, 
which allow the government to control disclosures and minimize, even neuter, their impact, 
editors first go to officials and advise them what they intend to publish. National security 
officials then tell the editors all the ways in which national security will supposedly be 
damaged by the disclosures. A protracted negotiation takes place over what will and will not 
be published. At best, substantial delay results. Often, patently newsworthy information is 
suppressed. This is most likely what led the Post, when reporting the existence of CIA black 
sites in 2005, to conceal the identities of those countries in which prisons were based, thus 
allowing the lawless CIA torture sites to continue. 

This same process caused the New York Times to conceal the existence of the NSA's 
warrantless eavesdropping program for more than a year after its reporters, James Risen and 
Eric Lichtblau, were ready to report it in mid-2004. President Bush had summoned the 
paper's publisher, Arthur Sulzberger, and its editor in chief, Bill Keller, to the Oval Office to 
insist, ludicrously, that they would be helping terrorists if they revealed that the NSA was 
spying on Americans without the warrants required by law. The New York Times obeyed 
these dictates and blocked publication of the article for fifteen months — until the end of 2005, 
after Bush had been reelected (thereby allowing him to stand for reelection while concealing 
from the public that he was eavesdropping on Americans without warrants). Even then, the 
Times eventually ran the NSA story only because a frustrated Risen was about to publish the 
revelations in his book and the paper did not want to be scooped by its own reporter. 

Then there's the tone that establishment media outlets use to discuss government 
wrongdoing. The culture of US journalism mandates that reporters avoid any clear or 
declarative statements and incorporate government assertions into their reporting, treating 
them with respect no matter how frivolous they are. They use what the Post's own media 
columnist, Erik Wemple, derides as middle-of-the-road-ese: never saying anything definitive 
but instead vesting with equal credence the government's defenses and the actual facts, all of 
which has the effect of diluting revelations to a muddled, incoherent, often inconsequential 
mess. Above all else, they invariably give great weight to official claims, even when those 
claims are patently false or deceitful. 

It was that fear-driven, obsequious journalism that led the Times, the Post, and many 
other outlets to refuse to use the word "torture" in their reporting on Bush interrogation 
techniques, even though they freely used that word to describe the exact same tactics when 
used by other governments around the world. It was also what produced the debacle of media 
outlets laundering baseless government claims about Saddam and Iraq to sell the American 
public on a war built of false pretenses that the US media amplified rather than investigated. 

Yet another unwritten rule designed to protect the government is that media outlets 
publish only a few such secret documents, and then stop. They would report on an archive 
like Snowden's so as to limit its impact — publish a handful of stories, revel in the accolades 
of a "big scoop," collect prizes, and then walk away, ensuring that nothing had really 
changed. Snowden, Laura, and I agreed that real reporting on the NSA documents meant that 
we had to publish aggressively, one story after the next, and not stop until all of the issues in 
the public interest had been covered, no matter the anger they caused or the threats they 

Snowden had been clear from our first conversation about his rationale for distrusting 
the establishment media with his story, repeatedly referring to the New York Times' 's 
concealment of NSA eavesdropping. He had come to believe that the paper's concealment of 
that information may very well have changed the outcome of the 2004 election. "Hiding that 
story changed history," he said. 

He was determined to expose the extremity of NSA spying revealed by the 
documents, so as to enable an enduring public debate with real consequences, rather than 
achieve a one-off scoop that would accomplish nothing beyond accolades for the reporters. 
That would take fearless disclosures, expressed scorn for flimsy government excuses and 
fearmongering, steadfast defense of the Tightness of Snowden's actions, and unambiguous 
condemnation of the NSA — exactly what the Post would bar its reporters from doing when 
talking about the government. I knew that anything the Post did would dilute the impact of 
the disclosures. That they had received a stack of Snowden's documents seemed completely 
counter to everything I thought we were trying to achieve. 

As usual, Laura had cogent reasons for her desire to draw in the Post. To begin with, 
she thought it would be beneficial to involve official Washington in the revelations to make it 
harder to attack or even criminalize them. If Washington's favorite newspaper were to report 
on the leaks, it would be more difficult for the government to demonize those involved. 

Moreover, as Laura fairly pointed out, neither she nor Snowden had been able to 
communicate with me for quite some time due to my lack of encryption, and she had thus 
been the one to bear the initial burden of having thousands of top secret NSA documents 
furnished to her by our source. She had felt a need to find someone she could trust with this 
secret material and to work with an institution that would offer her some protection. She also 
did not want to travel to Hong Kong alone. Since she couldn't speak with me at first, and 

since the source felt that someone else should help report the PRISM story, she concluded 
that it made sense to turn to Gellman. 

I understood but never agreed with Laura's rationale for talking to the Post. The idea 
that we needed official Washington involved in the story was, to me, exactly the kind of 
excessively risk-averse, unwritten-rule-abiding approach I wanted to avoid. We were 
journalists every bit as much as anyone at the Post, and giving them documents so that we 
would be protected was, in my view, bolstering the very premises we should be seeking to 
subvert. Although Gellman ended up doing some superb and important reporting with the 
materials, Snowden, during our initial conversations, began to regret the Post's involvement, 
even though he had been the one who had ultimately decided to accept Laura's 
recommendation to include them. 

Snowden was upset by what he perceived to be the Post's foot-dragging, by the 
recklessness of involving so many people to talk in unsecured ways about what he had done, 
and especially by the fear demonstrated by endlessly convening with alarmist lawyers. 
Snowden was especially angry that Gellman, at the behest of Post lawyers and editors, had 
ultimately declined to travel to Hong Kong to meet him and go over the documents. 

At least as both Snowden and Laura conveyed it, the Post's lawyers had told Gellman 
he shouldn't travel to Hong Kong; they also advised Laura not to go there and rescinded their 
offer to pay her travel expenses. This was based on an absurd, fear-driven theory; that any 
discussions about top secret information conducted in China, itself a pervasive surveillance 
state, might be overheard by the Chinese government. That, in turn, could be viewed by the 
US government as the Post recklessly passing secrets to the Chinese, which could result in 
criminal liability for the Post and for Gellman under espionage laws. 

Snowden, in his stoic and understated way, was livid. He had unraveled his life and 
put everything in jeopardy in order to get this story out. He had almost no protection, yet here 
was this huge media operation with all sorts of legal and institutional support that would not 
take the trivial risk of sending a reporter to Hong Kong to meet with him. "I'm ready to hand 
them this huge story at great personal risk," he said, "and they won't even get on a plane." It 
was exactly the type of timid, risk-averse government obeisance by our "adversarial press 
corps" that I had spent years condemning. 

The act of giving some of the documents to the Post was done, though, and there was 
nothing he or I could do to reverse it. But that second night in Hong Kong, after I met with 
Snowden, I resolved that it would not be the Washington Post, with its muddled, 
pro-government voice, its fear, and its middle-of-the-road-ese, that would shape how the 
NS A and Snowden would forever be understood. Whoever broke this story first would play 
the predominant role in how it was discussed and framed, and I was determined that this 
would be the Guardian and me. For this story to have the effect it should, the unwritten rules 
of establishment journalism — designed to soften the impact of revelations and protect the 
government — had to be broken, not obeyed. The Post would do the latter: I would not. 

So, once in my hotel room, I finished work on the four separate stories. The first was 
about the secret order from the FISA court compelling Verizon, one of America's largest 
telephone companies, to turn over to the NSA all the telephone records of all Americans. The 
second covered the history of the Bush warrantless eavesdropping program, based on a top 
secret 2009 internal report from the NSA's inspector general; another detailed the 
BOUNDLESS INFORMANT program that I had read about on the plane; and the last story 
laid out the PRISM program, which I had first learned about at home in Brazil. It was this 
story, above all, that compelled my urgency: this was the document the Post was working to 


To move quickly, we needed the Guardian on board to publish right away. As 
evening approached in Hong Kong — early morning in New York — I waited impatiently until 
the Guardian editors were just waking up in New York and kept checking every five minutes 
to see if Janine Gibson had signed on to Google chat, our normal way of communicating. As 
soon as I saw that she had, I immediately sent her a message: "We have to talk." 

By that point, we knew that speaking by telephone or by Google chat was out of the 
question. Both were far too insecure. We somehow failed to connect via OTR, the encrypted 
chat program we had been using, so Janine suggested that we try Cryptocat, a recently 
released program designed to impede state surveillance that became our primary means of 
communication throughout my time in Hong Kong. 

I told her about my meeting that day with Snowden, that I was convinced of his 
authenticity and of the documents he provided. I told her I had already written a number of 
articles. Janine was particularly excited by the Verizon story. 

"Great," I said. "That article is ready. If there are minor edits, fine, let's do them." I 
stressed to Janine the urgency of publishing quickly. "Let's get it out now." 

But there was a problem. The Guardian editors had been meeting with the paper's 
lawyers and were hearing alarming warnings. Janine conveyed what she had been told by the 
Guardian lawyers: publishing classified information can be depicted (albeit dubiously) as a 
crime by the US government, a violation of the Espionage Act, even for newspapers. The 
danger was particularly acute for documents relating to signals intelligence. The government 
had refrained from prosecuting media outlets in the past, but only as long as the media 
observed the unwritten rules giving officials an advance look and the opportunity to argue 
that publication would damage national security. This consultative process with the 
government, the Guardian lawyers explained, is what enables newspapers to demonstrate 
they have no intent to harm national security by publishing top secret documents and thus 
lack the requisite criminal intent to be prosecuted. 

There had never been a leak of documents from the NSA, let alone one of this 
magnitude and sensitivity. The lawyers thought there was potential criminal exposure — not 
only for Snowden but, given the Obama administration's history, for the paper as well. Just 
weeks before my arrival in Hong Kong, it was revealed that the Obama Justice Department 
had obtained a court order to read through the emails and telephone records of reporters and 
editors from the Associated Press to find their source for a story. 

Almost immediately after that, a new report revealed an even more extreme attack on 
the news-gathering process: the Department of Justice had filed a court affidavit accusing 
Fox News Washington bureau chief James Rosen of being a "co-conspirator" in his source's 
alleged crimes, on the grounds that the journalist had "aided and abetted" the source's 
disclosure of classified information by working with him closely to receive the materials. 

Journalists had noted for several years that the Obama administration was waging 
unprecedented attacks on journalism. But the Rosen episode was a major escalation. To 
criminalize cooperation with one's source as "aiding and abetting" is to criminalize 
investigative journalism itself: no reporter ever obtains secret information without working 
with his source to get it. This climate had made all media lawyers, including the Guardian's, 
extra cautious and even fearful. 

"They're saying that the FBI could come in and shut down our office and take our 
files," Gibson told me. 

I thought that was ridiculous: the very idea that the US government would shut down 

a major newspaper like the Guardian US and raid its office was the kind of overanxious 
advice that had made me, during my legal career, learn to hate lawyers' forbiddingly 
excessive warnings. But I knew Gibson wouldn't — and couldn't — simply dismiss those 
concerns out of hand. 

"What does this mean for what we're doing?" I asked. "When can we publish?" 

"I'm really not sure, Glenn," Gibson told me. "We need to get everything sorted first. 
We're meeting with the lawyers again tomorrow and we'll know more then." 

I was truly concerned. I had no idea how the Guardian editors were going to react. 
My independence at the Guardian and the fact that I had written few articles with editorial 
consulation, and certainly none as sensitive as this, meant that I was dealing with unknown 
factors. Indeed, the entire story was sui generis: it was impossible to know how anyone 
would react because nothing quite like this had happened before. Would the editors be cowed 
and bullied by US threats? Would they opt to spend weeks in negotiations with the 
government? Would they prefer to let the Post break the story so as to feel safer? 

I was eager to publish the Verizon story immediately: we had the FISA document and 
it was clearly genuine. There was no reason to deny Americans the right to see what the 
government was doing to their privacy, not even for one more minute. Equally urgent was the 
obligation I felt to Snowden. He had made his choice in a spirit of fearlessness, passion, and 
strength. I was determined that the reporting I did would be driven by the same spirit, to do 
justice to the sacrifice our source had made. Only audacious journalism could give the story 
the power it needed to overcome the climate of fear the government had imposed on 
journalists and their sources. Anxious legal concerns and the Guardian's hesitancy were the 
antithesis of such audacity. 

That night, I called David and confessed my growing worry about the Guardian. 
Laura and I discussed my concerns as well. We agreed to give the Guardian until the next 
day to publish the first article or we would explore other options. 

Some hours later, Ewen MacAskill came to my room to get an update on Snowden, 
whom he hadn't yet met. I shared with him my concern about delays. "You don't need to 
worry," he said about the Guardian. "They're very aggressive." Alan Rusbridger, the 
Guardian's longtime editor in chief in London was, Ewen assured me, "very engaged" with 
the story and "committed to publishing." 

I still viewed Ewen as a company man but was feeling a little better about him, given 
his own desire to publish quickly. After he left, I now told Snowden about Ewen traveling 
with us, referring to him as the Guardian's "babysitter" and said that I wanted them to meet 
the next day. I explained that getting Ewen on board was an important step in making the 
Guardian editors feel sufficiently comfortable to publish. "No problem," Snowden said. 
"But you know you have a minder. That's why they sent him." 

Their meeting was important. The next morning, Ewen came with us to Snowden' s 
hotel and spent roughly two hours questioning him, covering much of the same ground I had 
the day before. "How can I know you are what you say you are?" Ewen asked at the end. "Do 
you have any proof?" Snowden pulled out from his suitcase a pile of documents: his 
now-expired diplomatic passport, a former CIA identification card, a driver's license, and 
other government ID. 

We left the hotel room together. "I'm completely convinced he's real," Ewen said. "I 
have zero doubts." In his view, there was no longer any reason to wait. "I'm going to call 
Alan as soon as we get back to the hotel and tell him we should start publishing now." 

From that point forward, Ewen was fully integrated into our team. Laura and 

Snowden had both felt instantly comfortable with him, and I had to confess to feeling the 
same way. We realized that our suspicions had been entirely unfounded: lurking under the 
surface of Ewen's mild-mannered, avuncular exterior was a fearless reporter eager to pursue 
this story in exactly the way that we all thought necessary. Ewen, at least as he viewed 
himself, wasn't there to impose institutional constraints but to report and, at times, to help 
overcome those constraints. In fact, during our stay in Hong Kong, Ewen was often the most 
radical voice, arguing in favor of disclosures that not even Laura or I — or, for that matter, 
Snowden — were sure should be made yet. I quickly realized that his advocacy for aggressive 
reporting inside the Guardian would be vital in keeping London fully behind what we were 
doing, and it was. 

As soon as it was morning in London, Ewen and I called Alan together. I wanted to 
convey as clearly as possible that I expected — demanded, even — that the Guardian begin 
publishing that day, and to get a clear sense of the paper's position. By that point — only my 
second full day in Hong Kong — I had mentally committed to taking the story elsewhere if I 
sensed any substantial institutional hesitation. 

I was blunt. "I'm ready to publish this Verizon article and I don't understand at all 
why we're not doing it now," I told Alan. "What's the delay?" 

He assured me that there was no delay. "I agree. We're ready to publish. Janine has to 
have one final meeting with the lawyers this afternoon. I'm sure we'll publish after that." 

I brought up the Post's involvement with the PRISM story, which was only fueling 
my sense of urgency. Alan then surprised me: he not only wanted to be first to publish NSA 
stories in general, but also wanted to be the first to publish the PRISM story specifically, 
clearly eager to scoop the Post. "There's no reason we should defer to them," he said. 

"That's great with me." 

London was four hours ahead of New York, so it was going to be some time before 
Janine got into the office and even longer still before she met with the lawyers. So I spent the 
Hong Kong evening with Ewen finalizing our own PRISM story, reassured that Rusbridger 
was being as aggressive as necessary. 

We finished the PRISM article that day and used encryption to email it to Janine and 
Stuart Millar in New York. Now we had two major, blockbuster scoops ready to be 
published: Verizon and PRISM. My patience, my willingness to wait, was wearing very thin. 

Janine started her meeting with the lawyers at 3:00 p.m. New York time — 3:00 a.m. 
in Hong Kong — and sat with them for two hours. I stayed up, waiting to learn the outcome. 
When I spoke with Janine, I wanted to hear one thing only: that we were immediately 
running the Verizon article. 

That's not what happened, not even close. There were still "considerable" legal 
questions to be addressed, she told me. Once those were resolved, the Guardian had to advise 
government officials of our plans to give them an opportunity to persuade us not to 
publish — the process I loathed and had long condemned. I accepted that the Guardian would 
have to let the government make its case for non-publication, provided that the process did 
not become some protracted means of delaying the story for weeks or diluting its impact. 

"It sounds like we're days or even weeks away from publishing — not hours," I told 
Janine, trying to pack all my irritation and impatience into an online chat. "Let me reiterate 
that I will take any steps necessary to ensure that this story runs now." The threat was implicit 
but unambiguous: if I couldn't get the articles out immediately at the Guardian, I would go 
somewhere else. 

"You've already made yourself very clear on that," she curtly replied. 

It was now the end of the day in New York, and I knew that nothing would happen 
until at least the following day. I was frustrated and, by this point, very anxious. The Post was 
working on its PRISM article, and Laura, who was going to have a byline on that story, had 
heard from Gellman that they were planning to publish on Sunday, which was five days 

Talking it over with David and Laura, I realized I was no longer willing to wait for the 
Guardian. We all agreed I should start exploring alternatives as a Plan B in the event that 
there was more delay. Calls to Salon, my publishing home for years, as well as the Nation, 
quickly bore fruit. Both told me within a matter of hours that they would be happy to run the 
NSA stories right away, and they offered all the support I would need, with lawyers ready to 
vet the articles immediately. 

Knowing that there were two established venues ready and eager to print the NSA 
articles was emboldening. But in conversations with David, we decided there was an even 
more powerful alternative: to simply create our own website, entitled, 
and begin releasing the articles there, without the need for any existing media outlet. Once 
we went public with the fact that we had in our possession this huge trove of secret 
documents about NSA spying, we would easily recruit volunteer editors, lawyers, 
researchers, and financial backers: an entire team, motivated by nothing but a passion for 
transparency and real adversarial journalism, devoted to reporting what we knew was one of 
the most significant leaks in US history. 

From the start, I believed that the documents presented an opportunity to shine a light 
not only on secret NSA spying but on the corrupting dynamics of establishment journalism. 
Breaking one of the most important stories in years through a new and independent model of 
reporting, separate from any large media organization, was extremely appealing to me. It 
would boldly underscore that the First Amendment's guarantee of a free press and the ability 
to do important journalism were not dependent on affiliation with a large media outlet. The 
free press guarantee does not only protect corporate reporters but anyone engaged in 
journalism, whether employed or not. And the fearlessness conveyed by taking such a 
step — We're going publish thousands of top secret NSA documents without the protection of 
a large media corporation — would embolden others and help shatter the current climate of 

That night, I again barely slept. I spent the early morning hours in Hong Kong calling 
people whose opinions I trust: friends, lawyers, journalists, people with whom I had worked 
closely. They all gave me the same advice, which didn't really surprise me: it's too risky to 
do this alone, without an existing media structure. I wanted to hear the arguments against 
acting independently, and they provided many good ones. 

By late morning, after I had heard all the warnings, I called David again while I 
simultaneously spoke online with Laura. David was particularly adamant that going to Salon 
or the Nation would be too cautious and fear-driven — "a step backward," he called it — and 
that, if the Guardian delayed further, only releasing the stories at a newly created website 
could capture the intrepid spirit driving the reporting we wanted to do. He was also 
convinced that it would inspire people everywhere. Though initially skeptical, Laura was 
persuaded that taking such a bold step — creating a global network of people devoted to NSA 
transparency — would unleash a massive and powerful surge of passion. 

So as afternoon approached in Hong Kong, we resolved jointly that if the Guardian 
was unwilling to publish by the end of that day — which had not yet begun on the East 
Coast — I would leave and immediately post the Verizon article on our new website. Though 

I understood the risks involved, I was incredibly excited by our decision. I also knew that 
having this alternative plan in place would make me much stronger in my discussions that 
day with the Guardian: I felt I didn't need to stay attached to them to do this reporting, and 
freeing oneself of attachments is always empowering. 

When I spoke with Snowden that same afternoon, I told him about our plan. "Risky. 
But bold," he typed. "I like it." 

I managed to get a couple of hours of sleep, woke in the middle of the Hong Kong 
afternoon, and then confronted the fact that I had hours to wait for the start of Wednesday 
morning in New York. I knew that, in some fashion, I was going to communicate an 
ultimatum to the Guardian. I wanted to get on with it. 

As soon as I saw Janine come online, I asked her what the plan was. "Are we going to 
publish today?" 

"I hope so," she replied. Her uncertainty made me agitated. The Guardian still 
intended to contact the NSA that morning to advise them of our intentions. She said we 
would know our publishing schedule only once we heard back from them. 

"I don't get why we're going to wait," I said, now having lost patience with the 
Guardian's delays. "For a story this clean and straightforward, who cares what they think we 
should and shouldn't publish?" 

Aside from my contempt for the process — the government should not be a 
collaborative editorial partner with newspapers in deciding what gets published — I knew 
there was no plausible national security argument against our specific Verizon report, which 
involved a simple court order showing the systematic collection of Americans' telephone 
records. The idea that "terrorists" would benefit from exposing the order was laughable: any 
terrorists capable of tying their own shoes would already know that the government was 
trying to monitor their telephone communications. The people who would learn something 
from our article weren't the "terrorists" but the American people. 

Janine repeated what she had heard from the Guardian 's lawyers and insisted that I 
was operating under a wrong assumption if I thought the paper was going to be bullied out of 
publishing. Instead, she said, it was a legal requirement that they hear what US officials have 
to say. But, she assured me, she would not be intimidated or swayed by vague and frivolous 
appeals to national security. 

I didn't assume that the Guardian would be bullied; I just didn't know. And I was 
worried that, at the very least, talking to the government would significantly delay things. 
The Guardian did have a history of aggressive and defiant reporting, which is one of the 
reasons I went there in the first place. And I knew that they had the right to demonstrate what 
they would do in this situation rather than have me assume the worst. Janine' s proclamation 
of independence was somewhat reassuring. 

"OK," I said, willing to wait and see. "But again, from my perspective, this has to be 
published today," I typed. "I'm not willing to wait any longer." 

At around noon New York time, Janine told me that they had called the NSA and the 
White House to tell them they were planning on publishing top secret material. But nobody 
had called them back. The White House that morning had named Susan Rice as its new 
national security adviser. The Guardian's national security reporter, Spencer Ackerman, had 
good contacts in Washington. He told Janine that officials were "preoccupied" with Susan 

"Right now, they don't think they need to call us back," Janine wrote. "They're going 
to learn quickly that they need to return my calls." 

At 3:00 a.m. — 3:00 p.m. New York time — I still had not heard anything. Nor had 


"Do they have any sort of deadline, or is it just whenever they feel like getting back to 
us?" I asked sarcastically. 

She replied that the Guardian had asked to hear from the NSA "before the end of the 


"What if they don't respond by then?" I asked. 
"We'll make our decision then," she said. 

Janine then added another complicating factor: Alan Rusbridger, her boss, had just 
boarded a plane from London to New York to oversee publication of the NSA stories. But 
that meant he would be unavailable for the next seven hours or so. 

"Are you able to publish this article without Alan?" If the answer was "no," then there 
was no chance the article would be published that day. Alan's plane wasn't even scheduled to 
arrive at JKF until late at night. 

"We'll see," she said. 

I felt like I was running into exactly the sort of institutional barriers to doing 
aggressive reporting that I had joined the Guardian to avoid: Legal worries. Consultation 
with government officials. Institutional hierarchies. Risk aversion. Delay. 

Moments later, at roughly 3:15 p.m. New York time, Stuart Millar, Janine's deputy, 
sent me an instant message: "The government called back. Janine is talking to them now." 

I waited for what felt like an eternity. Around an hour later, Janine called me and 
recounted what had happened. There had been close to a dozen senior officials on the phone 
from numerous agencies, including NSA, DOJ, and the White House. At first they were 
patronizing but friendly, telling her she didn't understand the meaning or "context" of the 
Verizon court order. They wanted to schedule a meeting with her "sometime next week" to 
meet and explain things. 

When Janine told them she wanted to publish that day, and would do so unless she 
heard very specific and concrete reasons not to do so, they became more belligerent, even 
bullying. They told her she was not a "serious journalist" and the Guardian was not a 
"serious newspaper" because of its refusal to give the government more time to argue in 
favor of suppressing the story. 

"No normal journalistic outlet would publish this quickly without first meeting with 
us," they said, clearly playing for time. 

They're probably right, I remember thinking. That's the point. The rules in place 
allow the government to control and neuter the news-gathering process and eliminate the 
adversarial relationship between press and government. To me, it was vital for them to know 
from the start that those corrupting rules were not going to apply in this case. These stories 
would be released by a different set of rules, one that would define an independent rather than 
subservient press corps. 

I was encouraged by Janine's tone: strong and defiant. She stressed that, despite her 
repeatedly asking, they had failed to provide a single specific way in which national security 
would be harmed by publication. But she still wouldn't commit to publishing that day. At the 
end of the call, she said: "I'm going to see if I can reach Alan, then we'll decide what to do." 

I waited for half an hour and then asked her bluntly: "Are we going to publish today 
or not? That's all I want to know." 

She evaded the question. Alan was unreachable. It was clear that she was in an 
extremely difficult situation: on one side, US officials were bitterly accusing her of 

recklessness; on the other, she had me making increasingly uncompromising demands. And 
to top that off, the paper' s top editor was on an airplane, meaning that one of the most 
difficult and consequential decisions in the paper's 190-year history had fallen squarely on 
her shoulders. 

As I stayed online with Janine, I was on the phone the whole time with David. "It's 
close to five p.m.," David argued. "That's the deadline you gave them. It's time for a decision. 
They need to publish now or you need to tell them you quit." 

He was right, but I was hesitant. Quitting the Guardian right before I published one of 
the biggest national security leaks in US history would cause a huge media scandal. It would 
be damaging in the extreme to the Guardian, as I would have to offer some kind of public 
explanation, which would in turn compel them to defend themselves, probably by attacking 
me. We'd have a circus on our hands, a huge sideshow that would damage all of us. Worse, it 
would distract from where the focus should be: on the NSA disclosures. 

I also had to acknowledge my personal fear: publishing hundreds if not thousands of 
top secret NSA files was going to be risky enough, even as part of a large organization like 
the Guardian. Doing it alone, without institutional protection, would be far riskier. All the 
smart warnings from the friends and lawyers I had called played loudly in my head. 

As I hesitated, David said, "You have no choice. If they're scared to publish, this isn't 
the place for you. You can't operate by fear or you won't achieve anything. That's the lesson 
Snowden just showed you." 

Together, we composed what I was going to tell Janine in our chat box: "It's now 
5:00 p.m., which was the deadline I gave you. If we don't publish immediately — in the next 
thirty minutes — then I hereby terminate my contract with the Guardian." I almost hit "send," 
and then reconsidered. The note was way too much of an explicit threat, a virtual ransom note. 
If I left the Guardian under those circumstances, everything would be made public, including 
that line. So I softened the tone: "I understand that you have your concerns and have to do 
what you feel is right. I'm going to go ahead and now do what I think needs to be done, too. 
I'm sorry it didn't work out." I then hit "send." 

Within fifteen seconds, the phone rang in my hotel room. It was Janine. "I think 
you're being terribly unfair," she said, clearly distraught. If I left, then the Guardian — which 
had none of the documents — would lose the entire story. 

"I think you're the one being unfair," I replied. "I've repeatedly asked you when you 
intend to publish, and you refuse to give me an answer, just offering coy evasions." 

"We are going to publish today," Janine said. "We're thirty minutes away at most. 
We're just making a few final edits, working on headlines, and formatting. It will be up no 
later than five thirty." 

"OK. If that's the plan, then there's no problem," I said. "I'm obviously willing to 
wait thirty minutes." 

At 5:40 p.m., Janine sent me an instant message with a link, the one I had been 
waiting to see for days. "It's live," she said. 

"NSA Collecting Phone Records of Millions of Verizon Customers Daily," the 
headline read, followed by a subhead: "Exclusive: Top Secret Court Order Requiring 
Verizon to Hand Over All Call Data Shows Scale of Domestic Surveillance Under Obama." 

That was followed by a link to the full FIS A court order. The first three paragraphs of 
our article told the entire story: 

The National Security Agency is currently collecting the telephone records of millions of US 
customers of Verizon, one of America's largest telecom providers, under a top secret court 

order issued in April. The order, a copy of which has been obtained by the Guardian, requires 
Verizon on an "ongoing, daily basis" to give the NS A information on all telephone calls in its 
systems, both within the US and between the US and other countries.The document shows 
for the first time that under the Obama administration the communication records of millions 
of US citizens are being collected indiscriminately and in bulk — regardless of whether they 
are suspected of any wrongdoing. The impact of the article was instant and enormous, 
beyond anything I had anticipated. It was the lead story on every national news broadcast that 
night and dominated political and media discussions. I was inundated with interview requests 
from virtually every national TV outlet: CNN, MSNBC, NBC, the Today show, Good 
Morning America, and others. I spent many hours in Hong Kong talking to numerous 
sympathetic television interviewers — an unusual experience in my career as a political writer 
often at odds with the establishment press — who all treated the story as a major event and a 
real scandal. 

In response, the White House spokesman predictably defended the bulk collection 
program as "a critical tool in protecting the nation from terrorist threats." The Democratic 
chairwoman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Dianne Feinstein, one of the most 
steadfast congressional supporters of the national security state generally and US 
surveillance specifically, invoked standard post-9/11 fearmongering by telling reporters that 
the program was necessary because "people want the homeland kept safe." 

But almost nobody took those claims seriously. The pro-Obama New York Times 
editorial page issued a harsh denunciation of the administration. In an editorial entitled 
"President Obama' s Dragnet," the paper announced: "Mr. Obama is proving the truism that 
the executive branch will use any power it is given and very likely abuse it." Mocking the 
administration's rote invocation of "terrorism" to justify the program, the editorial 
proclaimed: "the administration has now lost all credibility." (Generating some controversy, 
the New York Times, without comment, softened that denunciation several hours after it was 
first published by adding the phrase "on this issue.") 

Democratic senator Mark Udall issued a statement saying that "this sort of wide-scale 
surveillance should concern all of us and is the kind of government overreach I've said 
Americans would find shocking." The ACLU said that "from a civil liberties perspective, the 
program could hardly be any more alarming. ... It is beyond Orwellian, and it provides 
further evidence of the extent to which basic democratic rights are being surrendered in 
secret to the demands of unaccountable intelligence agencies." Former vice president Al 
Gore took to Twitter, linked to our story, and wrote: "Is it just me, or is blanket surveillance 
obscenely outrageous?" 

Soon after the story ran, the Associated Press confirmed from an unnamed senator 
what we had strongly suspected: that the bulk phone record collection program had been 
going on for years, and was directed at all major US telecom carriers, not just Verizon. 

In the seven years I had been writing and speaking about the NSA, I had never seen 
any revelation produce anything near this level of interest and passion. There was no time to 
analyze why it had resonated so powerfully and prompted such a tidal wave of interest and 
indignation; for the moment, I intended to ride the wave rather than try to understand it. 

When I was finally finished with TV interviews at around noon Hong Kong time, I 
went directly to Snowden's hotel room. When I walked in, he had CNN on. Guests were 
discussing the NSA, expressing shock at the scope of the spying program. Hosts were 
indignant that this was all being done in secret. Almost every guest they brought on 
denounced bulk domestic spying. 

"It's everywhere," Snowden said, clearly excited. "I watched all your interviews. 
Everyone seemed to get it." 

At that moment, I felt a real sense of accomplishment. Snowden' s great fear — that he 
would throw his life away for revelations nobody would care about — had proved unfounded 
on the very first day: we had seen not a trace of indifference or apathy. Laura and I had 
helped him unleash precisely the debate we all believed was urgently necessary — and now I 
was able to see him watch it all unfold. 

Given Snowden' s plan to out himself after the first week of stories, we both knew that 
his freedom was likely to come to an end very shortly. For me, the depressing certainty that 
he would soon be under attack — hunted if not caged as a criminal — hovered over everything 
we did. It didn't seem to bother him at all, but it made me determined to vindicate his choice, 
to maximize the value of the revelations he had risked everything to bring to the world. We 
were off to a good start, and it was just the beginning. 

"Everyone thinks this is a onetime story, a stand-alone scoop," Snowden observed. 
"Nobody knows this is just the very tip of the iceberg, that there's so much more to come." 
He turned to me. "What's next and when?" 

"PRISM," I said. "Tomorrow." 

* * * 

I went back to my hotel room and, despite now approaching a sixth night of 
sleeplessness, simply could not switch off. The adrenaline was way too potent. At 4:30 p.m., 
as my only hope of catching some rest, I took a sleeping aid and set the alarm for 7:30 p.m., 
when I knew Guardian editors in New York would be coming online. 

That day, Janine got online early. We exchanged congratulations and marveled at the 
reaction to the article. Instantly, it was obvious that the tone of our exchange had changed 
radically. We had just navigated a significant journalistic challenge together. Janine was 
proud of the article and I was proud of her resistance to government bullying and her decision 
to publish the piece. The Guardian had fearlessly, admirably, come through. 

Although it had seemed at the time that there was substantial delay, it was clear in 
retrospect that the Guardian had moved forward with remarkable speed and boldness: more 
so, I'm certain, than any news venue of comparable size and stature would have done. And 
Janine was now clear that the paper had no intention of resting on its laurels. "Alan is 
insistent that we publish PRISM today," she said. I, of course, could not have been happier. 

What made the PRISM revelations so important was that the program allowed the 
NSA to obtain virtually anything it wanted from the Internet companies that hundreds of 
millions of people around the world now use as their primary means to communicate. This 
move was made possible by the laws that the US government had implemented in the wake 
of 9/1 1 , which vested the NSA with sweeping powers to surveil Americans and with virtually 
unlimited authority to carry out indiscriminate mass surveillance of entire foreign 

The 2008 FISA Amendments Act is the current governing law for NSA surveillance. 
It was enacted by a bipartisan Congress in the wake of the Bush-era NSA warrantless 
eavesdropping scandal, and a key result was that it effectively legalized the crux of Bush's 
illegal program. As the scandal revealed, Bush had secretly authorized the NSA to eavesdrop 
on Americans and others within the United States, justifying the order by the need to search 
for terrorist activity. The order overrode the requirement to obtain the court-approved 
warrants ordinarily necessary for domestic spying, and resulted in the secret surveillance of 

at least thousands of people within the United States. 

Despite the outcry that this program was illegal, the 2008 FISA law sought to 
institutionalize some of the scheme, not end it. The law is based on a distinction between "US 
persons" (American citizens and those legally on US soil) and all other people. To directly 
target a US person's telephone calls or emails, the NSA must still obtain an individual 
warrant from the FISA court. 

But for all other people, wherever they are, no individual warrant is needed, even if 
they are communicating with US persons. Under section 702 of the 2008 law, the NSA is 
merely required once a year to submit to the FISA court its general guidelines for 
determining that year's targets — the criteria is merely that the surveillance will "aid 
legitimate foreign intelligence gathering" — and then receives blanket authorization to 
proceed. Once the FISA court stamps "approved" on those permits, the NSA is then 
empowered to target any foreign nationals it wants for surveillance, and can compel telecoms 
and Internet companies to provide access to all the communications of any non- American, 
including those with US persons — Facebook chats, Yahoo! emails, Google searches. There 
is no need to persuade a court that the person is guilty of anything, or even that there is reason 
to regard the target with suspicion, and there is no need to filter out the US persons who end 
up surveilled in the process. 

The first order of business was for Guardian editors to advise the government of our 
intentions to publish the PRISM story. Again, we would give them a deadline of the end of 
that day, New York time. That ensured they would have a full day to convey any objections, 
rendering invalid their inevitable complaints that they hadn't had long enough to respond. 
But it was equally vital to get comments from the Internet companies that had, according to 
the NSA documents, provided the agency with direct access to their servers as part of 
PRISM: Facebook, Google, Apple, YouTube, Skype, and the rest. 

With hours to wait again, I returned to Snowden's hotel room, where Laura was 
working with him on various issues. At this point, having crossed a significant 
threshold — with the publication of the first explosive revelation — Snowden was becoming 
visibly more vigilant about his security. After I walked in, he put extra pillows against the 
door. At several points, when he wanted to show me something on his computer, he put a 
blanket over his head to prevent ceiling cameras from picking up his passwords. When the 
telephone rang, we all froze: Who could be calling? Snowden picked up, very tentatively, 
after several rings: the hotel housekeepers, seeing the DO NOT DISTURB sign on his door, 
were checking to see if he wanted his room cleaned. "No thanks," he said curtly. 

The climate was always tense when we met in Snowden's room; it only intensified 
once we began publishing. We had no idea whether the NSA had identified the source of the 
leak. If they had, did they know where Snowden was? Did Hong Kong or Chinese agents 
know? There could be a knock on Snowden's door at any moment that would put an 
immediate and unpleasant end to our work together. 

In the background, the television was always on, and it seemed someone was always 
talking about the NSA. After the Verizon story broke, the news programs talked of little 
beyond "indiscriminate bulk collection" and "local telephone records" and "surveillance 
abuses." As we discussed our next stories, Laura and I watched Snowden watching the frenzy 
he had triggered. 

Then at 2:00 a.m. Hong Kong time, when the PRISM article was about to run, I heard 
from Janine. 

"Something extremely weird has happened," she said. "The tech companies 

vehemently deny what's in the NSA documents. They insist they've never heard of PRISM." 

We went through the possible explanations for their denials. Perhaps the NSA 
documents overstated the agency's capabilities. Perhaps the tech companies were simply 
lying, or the specific individuals interviewed were unaware of their company's arrangements 
with the NSA. Or perhaps PRISM was just an internal NSA code name, never shared with the 

Whatever the explanation, we had to rewrite our story, not just to include the denials 
but to change the focus to the strange disparity between the NSA documents and the tech 
companies' position. 

"Let's not take a position on who's right. Let's just air the disagreement and let them 
work it out in public," I proposed. Our intention was that the story would force an open 
discussion of what the Internet industry had agreed to do with their users' communications; if 
their version clashed with the NSA documents, they would need to resolve it with the world 
watching, which is how it should be. 

Janine agreed and two hours later sent me the new draft of the PRISM story. The 
headline read: 

NSA Prism Program Taps In to User Data of Apple, Google and Others* Top-secret Prism 
program claims direct access to servers of firms including Google, Apple and Facebook* 
Companies deny any knowledge of program in operation since 2007 After quoting the 
NSA documents describing PRISM, the article noted: "Although the presentation claims the 
program is run with the assistance of the companies, all those who responded to a Guardian 
request for comment on Thursday denied knowledge of any such program." The article 
looked great to me, and Janine pledged that it would run within half an hour. 

As I waited impatiently for the minutes to go by, I heard the chime indicating the 
arrival of a chat message. I was hoping for confirmation from Janine, letting me know that 
the PRISM article was up. The message was from Janine, but not what I expected. 

"The Post just published their PRISM story," she said. 

What? Why, I wanted to know, had the Post suddenly changed its publishing 
schedule to rush their article into publication three days ahead of their plan? 

Laura shortly learned from Barton Gellman that the Post had got wind of our 
intentions after US officials had been contacted by the Guardian about the PRISM program 
that morning. One of those officials, knowing that the Post was working on a similar story, 
had passed on the news of our article on PRISM. The Post had then rapidly sped up their 
schedule to avoid being scooped. 

Now I loathed the deliberation even more: a US official had exploited this 
prepublication procedure, supposedly designed to protect national security, to ensure that his 
favored newspaper would run the story first. 

Once I had absorbed the information, I noticed the explosion on Twitter about the 
Post's PRISM article. But when I went to read it, I saw something missing: the inconsistency 
between the NSA version and the Internet companies' statements. 

Headlined "U.S., British Intelligence Mining Data from Nine U.S. Internet 
Companies in Broad Secret Program," and with Gellman and Laura's byline, the piece stated 
that "the National Security Agency and the FBI are tapping directly into the central servers of 
nine leading U.S. Internet companies, extracting audio and video chats, photographs, e-mails, 
documents, and connection logs that enable analysts to track foreign targets." Most 
significantly, it alleged that the nine companies "participate knowingly in PRISM 

Our own PRISM article was published ten minutes later, with its rather different 
focus and more cautious tone, prominently touting the Internet companies' vehement denials. 

Once again, the reaction was explosive. Moreover, it was international. Unlike 
telephone carriers such as Verizon, which are generally based in one country, Internet giants 
are global. Billions of people all over the world — in countries on every continent — use 
Facebook, Gmail, Skype, and Yahoo! as a primary means of communication. To learn that 
these companies had entered into secret arrangements with the NSA to provide access to their 
customers' communications was globally shocking. 

And now people began speculating that the earlier Verizon story was not a onetime 
event: the two articles signaled a serious NSA leak. 

The PRISM story's publication marked the last day for many months when I was able 
to read, let alone respond to, all the emails I received. Scanning my in-box, I saw the names 
of almost every major media outlet in the world wanting an interview: the worldwide debate 
Snowden had wanted to trigger was well under way — after only two days of stories. I thought 
about the massive trove of documents still to come, what this would mean for my life, the 
impact it would have on the world, and how the US government would respond once it 
realized what it faced. 

In a repeat of the previous day, I spent the early hours of Hong Kong's morning doing 
prime-time TV shows in the United States. The pattern that I followed my entire time in 
Hong Kong was thus set: working on stories throughout the night with the Guardian, doing 
interviews by day with the media, and then joining Laura and Snowden in his hotel room. 

I frequently took cabs around Hong Kong at 3:00 or 4:00 a.m., going to television 
studios, always with Snowden' s "operational security" instructions in mind: never to part 
with my computer or the thumb drives full of documents to prevent tampering or theft. I 
traveled the desolate streets of Hong Kong with my heavy backpack permanently attached to 
my shoulders, no matter where or what the hour. I fought paranoia every step of the way and 
often found myself looking over my shoulder, grabbing my bag just a bit more tightly each 
time someone approached. 

When I was done with the bevy of TV interviews, I would head back to Snowden' s 
room, where Laura, Snowden, and I — sometimes joined by MacAskill — continued our work, 
interrupting our progress only to glance at the TV. We were amazed at the positive reaction, 
how substantive the media's engagement with the revelations appeared to be, and how angry 
most commentators were: not at those who brought the transparency but at the extraordinary 
level of state surveillance we had exposed. 

I now felt able to implement one of our intended strategies, responding defiantly and 
scornfully toward the government's tactic of invoking 9/1 1 as the justification for this spying. 
I began denouncing Washington's tired and predictable accusations — that we had 
endangered national security, that we were aiding terrorism, that we had committed a crime 
by revealing national secrets. 

I felt emboldened to argue that these were the transparent, manipulative strategies of 
government officials who had been caught doing things that embarrassed them and damaged 
their reputations. Such attacks would not deter our reporting: we would publish many more 
stories from the documents, regardless of fearmongering and threats, carrying out our duty as 
journalists. I wanted to be clear: the usual intimidation and demonization were futile. Despite 
this defiant posture, most of the media, in those first days, were supportive of our work. 

This surprised me because, especially since 9/11 (though before that as well), the US 
media in general had been jingoistic and intensely loyal to the government and thus hostile, 

sometimes viciously so, to anyone who exposed its secrets. 

When WikiLeaks began publishing classified documents related to the Iraq and 
Afghanistan wars and especially diplomatic cables, calls for the prosecution of WikiLeaks 
were led by American journalists themselves, which was in itself astounding behavior. The 
very institution ostensibly devoted to bringing transparency to the actions of the powerful not 
only denounced but attempted to criminalize one of the most significant acts of transparency 
in many years. What WikiLeaks did — receiving classified information from a source within 
the government and then revealing it to the world — is essentially what media organizations 
do all the time. 

I had expected the American media to direct its hostility toward me, especially as we 
continued to publish documents and the unprecedented scope of the leak began to be clear. 
And as a harsh critic of the journalist establishment and many of its leading members, I was, 
I reasoned, a natural magnet for such hostility. I had few allies in the traditional media. Most 
were people whose work I had attacked publicly, frequently, and unsparingly. I expected 
them to turn on me at the first opportunity, but that first week of media appearances was a 
virtual lovefest, and not just when I was on. 

On Thursday, day five in Hong Kong, I went to Snowden's hotel room and he 
immediately said he had news that was "a bit alarming." An Internet-connected security 
device at the home he shared with his longtime girlfriend in Hawaii had detected that two 
people from the NSA — a human resources person and an NSA "police officer" — had come to 
their house searching for him. 

Snowden was almost certain this meant that the NSA had identified him as the likely 
source of the leaks, but I was skeptical. "If they thought you did this, they'd send hordes of 
FBI agents with a search warrant and probably SWAT teams, not a single NSA officer and a 
human resources person." I figured this was just an automatic and routine inquiry, triggered 
when an NSA employee goes absent for a few weeks without explanation. But Snowden 
suggested that perhaps they were being purposely low-key to avoid drawing media attention 
or setting off an effort to suppress evidence. 

Whatever the news meant, it underscored the need to quickly prepare our article and 
video unveiling Snowden as the source of the disclosures. We were determined that the 
world would first hear about Snowden, his actions and his motives, from Snowden himself, 
not through a demonization campaign spread by the US government while he was in hiding 
or in custody and unable to speak for himself. 

Our plan was to publish two more articles, one on Friday, the next day, and one after 
that, on Saturday. Then on Sunday, we would release a long piece on Snowden, accompanied 
by a videotaped interview, and a printed Q and A with him that Ewen would conduct. 

Laura had spent the prior forty-eight hours editing the footage from my first interview 
with Snowden, but she said it was too detailed, lengthy, and fragmented to use. She wanted to 
film a new interview right away, one that was more concise and focused, and wrote a list of 
twenty or so specific questions for me to ask him. I added several of my own as Laura set up 
her camera and directed us where to sit. 

"Um, my name is Ed Snowden," the now-famous film begins. "I'm twenty-nine years 
old. I work for Booz Allen Hamilton as an infrastructure analyst for NSA in Hawaii." 

Snowden went on to provide crisp, stoic, rational responses to each question: Why 
had he decided to disclose these documents? Why was this important enough for him to 
sacrifice his freedom? What were the most significant revelations? Was there anything 
criminal or illegal shown in these documents? What did he expect would happen to him? 

As he gave examples of illegal and invasive surveillance, he became animated and 
passionate. But only when I asked him whether he expected repercussions did he show 
distress, fearing that the government would target his family and girlfriend for retaliation. He 
would avoid contact with them to reduce the risk, he said, but he knew he could not fully 
protect them. "That's the one thing that keeps me up at night, what will happen to them," he 
said as his eyes welled up, the first and only time I saw that happen. 

As Laura worked on editing the video, Ewen and I finalized our next two stories. The 
third article, published that same day, disclosed a top secret presidential directive signed by 
President Obama in November 2012 ordering the Pentagon and related agencies to prepare 
for a series of aggressive offensive cyber operations around the world. "Senior national 
security and intelligence officials," the first paragraph explained, have been asked "to draw 
up a list of potential overseas targets for US cyber-attacks, a top secret presidential directive 
obtained by the Guardian reveals." 

The fourth article, which ran as planned on Saturday, was about BOUNDLESS 
INFORMANT, the NSA's data-tracking program, and it described the reports showing that 
the NSA was collecting, analyzing, and storing billions of telephone calls and emails sent 
across the American telecommunications infrastructure. It also raised the question of 
whether NSA officials had lied to Congress when they had refused to answer senators about 
the number of domestic communications intercepted, claiming that they did not keep such 
records and could not assemble such data. 

After the "BOUNDLESS INFORMANT" article was published, Laura and I planned 
to meet at Snowden's hotel. But before leaving my room, out of nowhere, as I sat on my hotel 
bed, I remembered Cincinnatus, my anonymous email correspondent from six months earlier, 
who had bombarded me with requests to install PGP so that he could provide me with 
important information. Amid the excitement of everything that was happening, I thought that 
perhaps he, too, had an important story to give me. Unable to remember his email name, I 
finally located one of his old messages by searching for keywords. 

"Hey: good news," I wrote to him. "I know it took me a while, but I'm finally using 
PGP email. So I'm ready to talk any time if you're still interested." I hit "send." 

Soon after I arrived at his room, Snowden said, with more than a small trace of 
mockery, "By the way, that Cincinnatus you just emailed, that's me." 

It took me a few moments to process this and regain my composure. That person, 
many months earlier, who desperately tried to get me to use email encryption . . . was 
Snowden. My first contact with him hadn't been in May, just a month earlier, but many 
months ago. Before contacting Laura about the leaks, before contacting anyone, he had tried 
to reach me. 

Now, with each passing day, the hours and hours the three of us spent together 
created a tighter bond. The awkwardness and tension of our initial meeting had quickly 
transformed into a relationship of collaboration, trust, and common purpose. We knew that 
we had together embarked on one of the most significant events of our lives. 

But with the "BOUNDLESS INFORMANT" article now behind us, the relatively 
lighter mood we had managed to keep up over the prior few days turned to palpable anxiety: 
we were less than twenty-four hours away from revealing Snowden's identity, which we 
knew would change everything, for him most of all. The three of us had lived through a short 
but exceptionally intense and gratifying experience. One of us, Snowden, was soon to be 
removed from the group, likely to go to prison for a long time — a fact that had depressingly 
lurked in the air from the outset, dampening the atmosphere, at least for me. Only Snowden 

had seemed unbothered by this. Now, a giddy gallows humor crept into our dealings. 

"I call the bottom bunk at Gitmo," Snowden joked as he contemplated our prospects. 
As we talked about future articles, he would say things like, "That's going into the indictment. 
The only question is whether it's going into yours or mine." Mostly he remained 
inconceivably calm. Even now, with the clock winding down on his freedom, Snowden still 
went to bed at ten thirty, as he had every night during my time in Hong Kong. While I could 
barely catch more than two hours of restless sleep at a time, he kept consistent hours. "Well, 
I'm going to hit the hay," he would announce casually each night before retiring for seven 
and a half hours of sound sleep, appearing completely refreshed the next day. 

When we asked him about his ability to sleep so well under the circumstances, 
Snowden said that he felt profoundly at peace with what he had done and so the nights were 
easy. "I figure I have very few days left with a comfortable pillow," he joked, "so I might as 
well enjoy them." 

* * * 

On Sunday afternoon Hong Kong time, Ewen and I put the final touches on our article 
introducing Snowden to the world while Laura finished editing the video. I talked to Janine, 
who signed in to chat as morning began in New York, about the particular importance of 
handling this news with care and my sense of personal obligation to Snowden to do justice to 
his choices. I had come to trust my Guardian colleagues more and more, both editorially and 
for their bravery. But in this case I wanted to vet every edit, large and small, to the piece that 
would reveal Snowden to the world. 

Later that afternoon in Hong Kong, Laura came to my hotel room to show her video 
to Ewen and me. The three of us watched it in silence. Laura's work was brilliant — the video 
was spare and the editing superb — but mostly the power lay in hearing Snowden speak for 
himself. He cogently conveyed the conviction, passion, and force of commitment that had 
driven him to act. His boldness in coming forward to claim what he had done and take 
responsibility for his actions, his refusal to hide and be hunted, would, I knew, inspire 

What I wanted more than anything was for the world to see Snowden' s fearlessness. 
The US government had worked very hard over the past decade to demonstrate unlimited 
power. It had started wars, tortured and imprisoned people without charges, drone-bombed 
targets in extrajudicial killings. And the messengers were not immune: whistle-blowers had 
been abused and prosecuted, journalists had been threatened with jail. Through a carefully 
cultivated display of intimidation to anyone who contemplated a meaningful challenge, the 
government had striven to show people around the world that its power was constrained by 
neither law nor ethics, neither morality nor the Constitution: look what we can do and will do 
to those who impede our agenda. 

Snowden had defied the intimidation as directly as possible. Courage is contagious. I 
knew that he could rouse so many people to do the same. 

At 2:00 p.m. Eastern time on Sunday, June 9, the Guardian published the story that 
revealed Snowden to the world: "Edward Snowden: The Whistleblower Behind the NSA 
Surveillance Revelations." The top of the article featured Laura's twelve-minute video; the 
first line read, "The individual responsible for one of the most significant leaks in US 
political history is Edward Snowden, a 29-year-old former technical assistant for the CIA and 
current employee of the defence contractor Booz Allen Hamilton." The article told 
Snowden' s story, conveyed his motives, and proclaimed that "Snowden will go down in 

history as one of America's most consequential whistleblowers, alongside Daniel Ellsberg 
and Bradley Manning." We quoted from Snowden's early note to Laura and me: "I 
understand that I will be made to suffer for my actions . . . but I will be satisfied if the 
federation of secret law, unequal pardon and irresistible executive powers that rule the world 
that I love are revealed even for an instant." 

The reaction to the article and the video was more intense than anything I had 
experienced as a writer. Ellsberg himself, writing the following day in the Guardian, 
proclaimed that "there has not been in American history a more important leak than Edward 
Snowden's release of NSA material — and that definitely includes the Pentagon Papers 40 
years ago." 

Several hundred thousand people posted the link to their Facebook accounts in the 
first several days alone. Almost three million people watched the interview on YouTube. 
Many more saw it at the Guardian online. The overwhelming response was shock and 
inspiration at Snowden's courage. 

Laura, Snowden, and I followed the reaction to his exposure together, while I also 
debated with two Guardian media strategists over which Monday morning TV interviews I 
should agree to do. We settled on Morning Joe on MSNBC, followed by NBC's Today 
show — the two earliest shows, which would shape the coverage of Snowden throughout the 

But before I could get to those interviews, we were diverted by a call at 5:00 
a.m. — just hours after the Snowden article was published — from a longtime reader of mine 
who lives in Hong Kong, with whom I had been communicating periodically throughout the 
week. On this early-morning call, he pointed out that the entire world would soon be looking 
for Snowden in Hong Kong, and he insisted that Snowden urgently needed to retain 
well-connected lawyers in the city. He had two of the best human-rights lawyers standing by, 
willing to represent him. Could the three of them come over to my hotel right away? 

We agreed to meet a short time later, at around 8:00 a.m. I slept for a couple of hours 
until he called, an hour early, at 7:00 a.m. 

"We're already here," he said, "downstairs in your hotel. I have the two lawyers with 
me. Your lobby is filled with cameras and reporters. The media is searching for Snowden's 
hotel and will find it imminently, and the lawyers say that it's vital they get to him before the 
media finds him." 

Barely awake, I threw on the nearest clothes I could find and I stumbled to the door. 
As soon as I opened it, the flashes from multiple cameras went off in my face. The media 
horde had obviously paid off someone on the hotel staff to get my room number. Two women 
identified themselves as Hong Kong-based Wall Street Journal reporters; others, including 
one with a large camera, were from Associated Press. 

They hurled questions and formed a moving half-circle around me as I walked to the 
elevator. They pushed their way into the elevator with me, asking one question after the next, 
most of which I answered with short, curt, unhelpful replies. 

Down in the lobby, a new swarm of cameras and reporters joined the group. I tried to 
look for my reader and the lawyers but could not move two feet without having my path 

I was particularly concerned that the swarm would try to follow me and make it 
impossible for the lawyers to get to Snowden. I finally decided to hold an impromptu press 
conference in the lobby, answering questions so that the reporters would go away. After 
fifteen minutes or so, most of them dispersed. 

I was then relieved to stumble into Gill Phillips, the Guardian's chief lawyer, who 
had stopped in Hong Kong on her way from Australia to London to provide Ewen and me 
with legal counsel. She said she wanted to explore all possible ways for the Guardian to 
protect Snowden. "Alan is adamant that we give him all the support we legally can," she said. 
We tried to talk more but had no privacy with the last few reporters lurking. 

I finally found my reader, along with the two Hong Kong lawyers he had brought 
with him. We plotted how we could speak without being followed, and all decamped for 
Gill's room. Still trailed by a handful of reporters, we shut the door in their faces. 

We got right down to business. The lawyers wished urgently to speak to Snowden to 
get his formal permission to represent him, at which point they could begin acting on his 

Gill frantically used her phone to investigate these lawyers, whom we had only just 
met, before turning Snowden over to them. She was able to determine that they were indeed 
well-known and established in the human rights and asylum community and seemed quite 
well connected politically in Hong Kong. As Gill performed her impromptu due diligence, I 
signed on to the chat program. Both Snowden and Laura were online. 

Laura, who was now staying at Snowden' s hotel, was certain that it was only a matter 
of time before the reporters found their location, too. Snowden was clearly eager to leave. I 
told him about the lawyers, who were ready to go to his hotel room. Snowden said they 
should pick him up and bring him to a safe place. It was, he said, "time to enter the part of the 
plan where I ask the world for protection and justice." 

"But I need to get out of the hotel without being recognized by reporters," he said. 
"Otherwise they'll just follow me wherever I go." 

I conveyed these concerns to the lawyers. "Does he have any ideas how to prevent 
that?" one of them asked. 

I passed the question on to Snowden. 

"I'm in the process of taking steps to change my appearance," he said, clearly having 
thought about this previously. "I can make myself unrecognizable." 

At that point, I thought the lawyers should speak to him directly. Before being able to 
do so, they needed Snowden to recite a formalistic phrase about hereby retaining them. I sent 
Snowden the phrase and he then typed it back to me. The lawyers then took over the 
computer and began speaking with Snowden. 

After ten minutes, the two lawyers announced they were heading over to his hotel 
immediately to meet Snowden as he attempted to leave the hotel undetected. 

"What do you intend to do with him after that?" I asked. 

They would likely take him to the UN mission in Hong Kong and formally seek the 
UN's protection from the US government, on the grounds that Snowden was a refugee 
seeking asylum. Or, they said, they would try to arrange a "safe house." 

But how to get the lawyers out of the hotel without being followed? We came up with 
a plan: I would walk out of the hotel room with Gill and go down to the lobby to lure the 
reporters, still waiting outside our door, to follow me. The lawyers would then wait for a few 
minutes and exit the hotel, hopefully without being noticed. 

The ruse worked. After thirty minutes of chatting with Gill in a mall attached to the 
hotel, I went back up to my room and anxiously called one of the lawyers on his cell phone. 

"He got out right before journalists started swarming the floor," he said. "We met him 
in his hotel room and then we crossed a bridge into an adjacent mall" — in front of the room 
with the alligator where Snowden had first met us, I later learned — "and then into our waiting 

car. He's with us now." 

Where were they taking him? 

"It's best not to talk about that on the phone," the lawyer replied. "He'll be safe for 


I was immensely relieved that Snowden was in good hands, but we knew there was a 
strong chance we might never see or speak to him again, at least not as a free man. Most 
likely, I thought, we would next see him on television, dressed in an orange prison jumpsuit 
and wearing shackles, inside a US courtroom, being arraigned on espionage charges. 

As I digested the news, there was a knock on my door. It was the general manager of 
the hotel, who had come to tell me that the phone was ringing nonstop for my room (I had 
given an instruction to the front desk to block all calls). There were also throngs of reporters, 
photographers, and camera people down in the lobby waiting for me to appear. 

"If you like," he said, "we can take you out a back elevator and through an exit 
nobody will see. And the Guardian's, lawyer has made a reservation for you at another hotel 
under a different name, if that's what you want to do." 

That was clearly hotel-manager-ese for: we want you to leave because of the ruckus 
you are creating. I knew it was a good idea anyway: I wanted to continue to work with some 
privacy and was still hoping to maintain contact with Snowden. So I packed my bags, 
followed the manager out the back exit, met Ewen in a waiting car, and then checked into a 
different hotel under the name of the Guardian's lawyer. 

The first thing I did was sign on to the Internet, hoping to hear from Snowden. Several 
minutes later, he appeared online. 

"I'm fine," he told me. "In a safe house for now. But I have no idea how safe it is, or 
how long I'll be here. I'll have to move from place to place, and my Internet access is 
unreliable, so I don't know when or how often I'll be online." 

He was obviously reluctant to give any details about his location and I did not want 
them. I knew that my ability to be involved in his hiding was very limited. He was now the 
world's most wanted man by the world's most powerful government. The United States had 
already demanded that Hong Kong authorities arrest him and turn him over to American 

So we spoke briefly and vaguely, expressing mutual hope that we would be in touch. 
I told him to stay safe. 

* * * 

When I finally got to the studio for the interviews for Morning Joe and the Today 
show, I noticed immediately that the tenor of the questioning had changed significantly. 
Rather than dealing with me as a reporter, the hosts preferred to attack a new target: Snowden 
himself, now a shadowy figure in Hong Kong. Many US journalists resumed their 
accustomed role as servants to the government. The story was no longer that reporters had 
exposed serious NSA abuses but that an American working for the government had 
"betrayed" his obligations, committed crimes, and then "fled to China." 

My interviews with both hosts, Mika Brzezinski and Savannah Guthrie, were 
acrimonious and acerbic. Sleep-deprived for more than a full week now, I had no patience for 
the criticisms of Snowden embedded in their questions: journalists, I felt, should be 
celebrating, not demonizing someone who had brought more transparency to the national 
security state than anyone in years. 

After a few more days of interviews, I decided it was time to leave Hong Kong. 

Clearly, it would now be impossible to meet or otherwise help Snowden from Hong Kong, 
and at that point I was completely exhausted, physically, emotionally, and psychologically. I 
was eager to return to Rio. 

I thought about flying home through New York and stopping for one day to do 
interviews — just to make the point that I could and would. But I was advised by a lawyer 
against doing so, arguing that it made little sense to take legal risks of that sort until we knew 
how the government planned to react. "You've just enabled the biggest national security leak 
in US history and gone all over TV with the most defiant message possible," he said. "It will 
only make sense to plan a trip to the US once we get a sense of the Justice Department's 

I didn't agree: I thought it was unlikely in the extreme that the Obama administration 
would arrest a journalist in the middle of such high-profile reporting. But I was too drained to 
argue or take the risk. So I had the Guardian book my flight back to Rio through Dubai, 
nowhere near the United States. For the moment, I reasoned, I had done enough. 



The archive of documents Edward Snowden had assembled was stunning in both size 
and scope. Even as someone who had spent years writing about the dangers of secret US 
surveillance, I found the sheer vastness of the spying system genuinely shocking, all the more 
so because it had clearly been implemented with virtually no accountability, no transparency, 
and no limits. 

The thousands of discrete surveillance programs described by the archive were never 
intended by those who implemented them to become public knowledge. Many of the 
programs were aimed at the American population, but dozens of countries around the 
planet — including democracies typically considered US allies, such as France, Brazil, India, 
and Germany — were also targets of indiscriminate mass surveillance. 

Snowden' s archive was elegantly organized, but its size and complexity made it 
extremely difficult to process. The tens of thousands of NSA documents in it had been 
produced by virtually every unit and subdivision within the sprawling agency, and it also 
contained some files from closely aligned foreign intelligence agencies. The documents were 
startlingly recent: mostly from 2011 and 2012, and many from 2013. Some even dated from 
March and April of that year, just months before we met Snowden in Hong Kong. 

The vast majority of the files in the archive were designated "top secret." Most of 
those were marked "FVEY," meaning that they were approved for distribution only to the 
NSA's four closest surveillance allies, the "Five Eyes" English-speaking alliance composed 
of Britain, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand. Others were meant for US eyes only, 
marked "NOFORN" for "no foreign distribution." Certain documents, such as the FISA 
court order allowing collection of telephone records and Obama' s presidential directive to 
prepare offensive cyber-operations, were among the US government's most closely held 

Deciphering the archive and the NSA's language involved a steep learning curve. The 
agency communicates with itself and its partners in an idiosyncratic language of its own, a 
lingo that is bureaucratic and stilted yet at times boastful and even snarky. Most of the 
documents were also quite technical, filled with forbidding acronyms and code names, and 
sometimes required that other documents be read first before they could be understood. 

But Snowden had anticipated the problem, providing glossaries of acronyms and 
program names, as well as internal agency dictionaries for terms of art. Still, some 
documents were impenetrable on the first, second, or even third reading. Their significance 
emerged only after I had put together different parts of other papers and consulted with some 
of the world's foremost experts on surveillance, cryptography, hacking, the history of the 
NSA, and the legal framework governing American spying. 

Compounding the difficulty was the fact that the mountains of documents were often 
organized not by subject but by branch of the agency where they had originated, and dramatic 
revelations were mixed in with large amounts of banal or highly technical material. Although 
the Guardian devised a program to search through the files by keyword, which was of great 
help, that program was far from perfect. The process of digesting the archive was 
painstakingly slow, and many months after we first received the documents, some terms and 
programs still required further reporting before they could be safely and coherently 

Despite such problems, though, Snowden' s files indisputably laid bare a complex 
web of surveillance aimed at Americans (who are explicitly beyond the NSA's mission) and 
non-Americans alike. The archive revealed the technical means used to intercept 
communications: the NSA's tapping of Internet servers, satellites, underwater fiber-optic 
cables, local and foreign telephone systems, and personal computers. It identified individuals 
targeted for extremely invasive forms of spying, a list that ranged from alleged terrorists and 
criminal suspects to the democratically elected leaders of the nation's allies and even 
ordinary American citizens. And it shed light on the NSA's overall strategies and goals. 

Snowden had placed crucial, overarching documents at the front of the archive, 
flagging them as especially important. These files disclosed the agency's extraordinary reach, 
as well as its deceit and even criminality. The BOUNDLESS INFORMANT program was 
one of the first such revelations, showing that the NSA counts all the telephone calls and 
emails collected every day from around the world with mathematical exactitude. Snowden 
had placed these files so prominently not only because they quantified the volume of calls 
and emails collected and stored by the NSA — literally billions each day — but also because 
they proved that NSA chief Keith Alexander and other officials had lied to Congress. 
Repeatedly, NSA officials had claimed that they were incapable of providing specific 
numbers — exactly the data that BOUNDLESS INFORMANT was constructed to assemble. 

For the one-month period beginning March 8, 2013, for example, a BOUNDLESS 
INFORMANT slide showed that a single unit of the NSA, Global Access Operations, had 
collected data on more than 3 billion telephone calls and emails that had passed through the 
US telecommunications system. ("DNR," or "Dialed Number Recognition," refers to 
telephone calls; "DNI," or "Digital Network Intelligence," refers to Internet-based 
communications such as emails.) That exceeded the collection from the systems each of 
Russia, Mexico, and virtually all the countries in Europe, and was roughly equal to the 
collection of data from China. 

Overall, in just thirty days the unit had collected data on more than 97 billion emails 
and 124 billion phone calls from around the world. Another BOUNDLESS INFORMANT 
document detailed the international data collected in a single thirty-day period from 
Germany (500 million), Brazil (2.3 billion), and India (13.5 billion). And yet other files 
showed collection of metadata in cooperation with the governments of France (70 million), 
Spain (60 million), Italy (47 million), the Netherlands (1.8 million), Norway (33 million), 
and Denmark (23 million). 


Despite the NSA's statutorily defined focus on "foreign intelligence," the documents 
confirmed that the American public was an equally important target for the secret 
surveillance. Nothing made that clearer than the April 25, 2013, top secret order from the 
FISA court compelling Verizon to turn over to the NSA all information about its American 
customers' telephone calls, the "telephony metadata." Marked "NOFORN," the language of 
the order was as clear as it was absolute: 

JT IS HEREBY ORDERED that, the Custodian of Records shall produce Lathe Secur Sty Agency (NSA) upon service of Ibis Order, and continue p-rcduction 
on an ongoing: daily basis thercfiftcr for the duration of this Order, unless otherwise 
ordered by the Court an electronic copy or Ihe following tangible things; Alt call detail 
rtseordiOr "tetephtmy metadata" created by Verizon for eornmurucations. (i) between 
th« United Stales and abroad; or (ii) wholly within the L'nircd Stales, including local 
telephone calls. 

Telephony nieladai,! include* ftimp^hiraive communications routing information, 
including but not limited to Session identifying information {e.g.. originating and 
terminating telephone plumber, International Mobile Subscriber Identity (IMS!) number, 
Interrtatfcmal Mobile Station Equipment Identity {LMEI) number, etc.), trunk Edentlfwr, 
telephone calling card numbers, and time and duration of call. 

This bulk telephone collection program was one of the most significant discoveries in 
an archive suffused with all types of covert surveillance programs — from the large-scale 
PRISM (involving collection of data directly from the servers of the world's biggest Internet 
companies) and PROJECT BULLRUN, a joint effort between the NSA and its British 
counterpart, the Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ), to defeat the most 
common forms of encryption used to safeguard online transactions, to smaller-scale 
enterprises with names that reflect the contemptuous and boastful spirit of supremacy behind 
them: EGOTISTICAL GIRAFFE, which targets the Tor browser that is meant to enable 
anonymity in online browsing; MUSCULAR, a means to invade the private networks of 

Google and Yahoo!; and OLYMPIA, Canada's program to surveil the Brazilian Ministry of 
Mines and Energy. 

Some of the surveillance was ostensibly devoted to terrorism suspects. But great 
quantities of the programs manifestly had nothing to do with national security. The 
documents left no doubt that the NSA was equally involved in economic espionage, 
diplomatic spying, and suspicionless surveillance aimed at entire populations. 

Taken in its entirety, the Snowden archive led to an ultimately simple conclusion: the 
US government had built a system that has as its goal the complete elimination of electronic 
privacy worldwide. Far from hyperbole, that is the literal, explicitly stated aim of the 
surveillance state: to collect, store, monitor, and analyze all electronic communication by all 
people around the globe. The agency is devoted to one overarching mission: to prevent the 
slightest piece of electronic communication from evading its systemic grasp. 

This self-imposed mandate requires endlessly expanding the NSA's reach. Every day, 
the NSA works to identify electronic communications that are not being collected and stored 
and then develops new technologies and methods to rectify the deficiency. The agency 
regards itself as needing no specific justification to collect any particular electronic 
communication, nor any grounds for regarding its targets with suspicion. What the NSA calls 
"SIGINT" — all signals intelligence — is its target. And the mere fact that it has the capability 

to collect those communications has become one rationale for doing so. 

* * * 

A military branch of the Pentagon, the NSA is the largest intelligence agency in the 
world, with the majority of its surveillance work conducted through the Five Eyes alliance. 
Until the spring of 2014, when controversy over the Snowden stories became increasingly 
intense, the agency was headed by four-star general Keith B. Alexander, who had overseen it 
for the previous nine years, aggressively increasing the NSA's size and influence during his 
tenure. In the process, Alexander became what reporter James Bamford described as "the 
most powerful intelligence chief in the nation's history." 

The NSA "was already a data behemoth when Alexander took over," Foreign Policy 
reporter Shane Harris noted, "but under his watch, the breadth, scale, and ambition of its 
mission have expanded beyond anything ever contemplated by his predecessors." Never 
before had "one agency of the U.S. government had the capacity, as well as the legal 
authority, to collect and store so much electronic information." A former administration 
official who worked with the NSA chief told Harris that "Alexander's strategy" was clear: "I 
need to get all of the data." And, Harris added, "He wants to hang on to it for as long as he 

Alexander's personal motto, "Collect it all," perfectly conveys the central purpose of 
the NSA. He first put this philosophy into practice in 2005 while collecting signals 
intelligence relating to the occupation of Iraq. As the Washington Post reported in 2013, 
Alexander grew dissatisfied with the limited focus of American military intelligence, which 
targeted only suspected insurgents and other threats to US forces, an approach that the newly 
appointed NSA chief viewed as too constraining. "He wanted everything: Every Iraqi text 
message, phone call, and e-mail that could be vacuumed up by the agency's powerful 
computers." So the government deployed technological methods indiscriminately to collect 
all communications data from the entire Iraqi population. 

Alexander then conceived of applying this system of ubiquitous 
surveillance — originally created for a foreign population in an active war zone — to American 

citizens. "And, as he did in Iraq, Alexander has pushed hard for everything he can get," the 
Post reported: "tools, resources, and the legal authority to collect and store vast quantities of 
raw information on American and foreign communications." Thus, "in his eight years at the 
helm of the country's electronic surveillance agency, Alexander, 61, has quietly presided 
over a revolution in the government's ability to scoop up information in the name of national 

Alexander's reputation as a surveillance extremist is well documented. In describing 
his "all-out, barely legal drive to build the ultimate spy machine," Foreign Policy called him 
"the cowboy of the NSA." Even Bush-era CIA and NSA chief General Michael 
Hayden — who himself oversaw the implementation of Bush's illegal warrantless 
eavesdropping program and is notorious for his aggressive militarism — often had 
"heartburn" over Alexander's no-holds-barred approach, according to Foreign Policy. A 
former intelligence official characterized Alexander's view: "Let's not worry about the law. 
Let's just figure out how to get the job done." The Post similarly noted that "even his 
defenders say Alexander's aggressiveness has sometimes taken him to the outer edge of his 
legal authority." 

Although some of the more extreme statements from Alexander — such as his blunt 
question "Why can't we collect all the signals, all the time?," which he reportedly asked 
during a 2008 visit to Britain's GCHQ — have been dismissed by agency spokespeople as 
mere lighthearted quips taken out of context, the agency's own documents demonstrate that 
Alexander was not joking. A top secret presentation to the 2011 annual conference of the 
Five Eyes alliance, for instance, shows that the NSA has explicitly embraced Alexander's 
motto of omniscience as its core purpose: 

New Collection Posture 

■t-iHri-nrj. rauiA mm cwi dm uzl.'uuokm 

A 2010 document presented to the Five Eyes conference by the GCHQ — referring to 
its ongoing program to intercept satellite communications, code-named TARMAC — makes 
it clear that the British spy agency also uses this phrase to describe its mission: 

top 5;:sET„GoyihmEL tousa.fvey 


* MHS has a growing FORNSAT mission. 

- SHAREDVfSION mission, 

- SigDavfDifficull Signals collection"). 

Even routine internal NSA memoranda invoke the slogan to justify expanding the 
agency's capabilities. One 2009 memo from the technical director of the NSA's Mission 
Operations, for example, touts recent improvements to the agency's collection site in Misawa, 

Future Plans (U) 

{TS'/SltfREL) In the future, M5C>C hopes to expand the numher of WORDCrHPUHR platforms to 
enable demodulation of thousands of additional low-rate carriers. 


targets arc ideally suited for software demodulation. Additionally, MS()C has developed a 
capability to automatically scan and demodulate signals as they activate on the satellites. There are 
a multitude of possibilities, bringing our enterprise one slep closer to "tolleuins it all," 

Far from being a frivolous quip, "collect it all" defines the NSA's aspiration, and it is 
a goal the NSA is increasingly closer to reaching. The quantity of telephone calls, emails, 
online chats, online activities, and telephonic metadata collected by the agency is staggering. 
Indeed, the NSA frequently, as one 2012 document put it, "collects far more content than is 
routinely useful to analysts." As of mid-2012, the agency was processing more than twenty 
billion communications events (both Internet and telephone) from around the world each 

l»««tl !i«wm: III m:ivm> 

e of Current Volumes and Limits 


For each individual country, the NSA also produces a daily breakdown quantifying 
the number of calls and emails collected. The chart below, for Poland, shows more than three 
million telephone calls on some days, for a thirty-day total of seventy-one million: 

POLAND -LllliO Dip B" BF- II 

The domestic total collected by the NSA is equally stunning. Even prior to 
Snowden's revelations, the Washington Post reported in 2010 that "every day, collection 
systems at the National Security Agency intercept and store 1.7 billion emails, phone calls, 
and other types of communications" from Americans. William Binney, a mathematician who 
worked for the NSA for three decades and resigned in the wake of 9/1 1 in protest over the 
agency's increasing domestic focus, has likewise made numerous statements about the 
quantities of US data collected. In a 2012 interview with Democracy Now!, Binney said that 
"they've assembled on the order of 20 trillion transactions about U.S. citizens with other U.S. 

After Snowden's revelations, the Wall Street Journal reported that the overall 
interception system of the NSA "has the capacity to reach roughly 75% of all U.S. Internet 
traffic in the hunt for foreign intelligence, including a wide array of communications by 
foreigners and Americans." Speaking anonymously, current and former NSA officials told 
the Journal that in some cases the NSA "retains the written content of emails sent between 
citizens within the U.S. and also filters domestic phone calls made with Internet technology." 

Britain's GCHQ similarly collects such a great quantity of communications data that 
it can barely store what it has. As one 201 1 document prepared by the British put it: 

■ GCHQ has massive access to international 
internet communications 

■ We receive upwards of 50 Billion events per day 
(...and growing) 

So fixated is the NSA on collecting it all that the Snowden archive is sprinkled with 

celebratory internal memos heralding particular collection milestones. This December 2012 
entry from an internal messaging board, for instance, proudly proclaims that the 
SHELLTRUMPET program has processed its one trillionth record: 

I5//5I//HEL TO USA. FVEYh SHELLTRUMPET Processes if s One Trillinnth 
Metadata Recorfl 

Ey f MmcHEDAcrcp ] an 201?- 12-31 «73B 

IS//SI/yftEL TO USA, rVEth On 5c;crtcr 21, 201? Sh£LLTRuMPET processed its 
One TriUiunth metadata record. SHEILTRUHPET Began a* ft rpar-rea L-c ir<? 
metadata analyzer on Out B, 2fl87 for a ( lass It coUettlen system, in its 

five year history, numerous other systems; fron across the Agency have come 

to use Shelltruh pet's processing taxabilities for perFornanee monitoring, 

direct E-Mail tip alerting WF Fit THIEF tipping, and Flcal-Tinc- Regional 
Gateway f R.TRG } filtering ar.d ingest. Though It took iive years -.0 get to 
the cmc trillion narl, alrost half of L f is volume was processed in this 
calendar year, and half of that volume was fro™ SSD's CANi INfiOASIS. 
SHELLTflUHPET ts Currently processing Two BilUon <Bll event S/day troffl 
select SSO (Ran-M, OAKSTAR, MYSTIC and HCSC enabled systems), H.USKETEER, 
and Second Party; systens, We will oe expanding its reach into ether SSo 
systems over the course of 2813. TritUon retcrdi ^roct-iscd have 
resulted in over 35 Million tips to traff^cthief . 

* * * 

To collect such vast quantities of communications, the NSA relies on a multitude of 
methods. These include tapping directly into fiber-optic lines (including underwater cables) 
used to transmit international communications; redirecting messages into NSA repositories 
when they traverse the US system, as most worldwide communications do; and cooperating 
with the intelligence services in other countries. With increasing frequency, the agency also 
relies on Internet companies and telecoms, which indispensably pass on information they 
have collected about their own customers. 

While the NSA is officially a public agency, it has countless overlapping partnerships 
with private sector corporations, and many of its core functions have been outsourced. The 
NSA itself employs roughly thirty thousand people, but the agency also has contracts for 
some sixty thousand employees of private corporations, who often provide essential services. 
Snowden himself was actually employed not by the NSA but by the Dell Corporation and the 
large defense contractor Booz Allen Hamilton. Still, he, like many other private contractors, 
worked in the NSA offices, on its core functions, with access to its secrets. 

According to Tim Shorrock, who has long chronicled the NS A-corporate relationship, 
"70 percent of our national intelligence budget is being spent on the private sector." When 
Michael Hayden said that "the largest concentration of cyber power on the planet is the 
intersection of the Baltimore Parkway and Maryland Route 32," Shorrock noted, "he was 
referring not to the NSA itself but to the business park about a mile down the road from the 
giant black edifice that houses NSA's headquarters in Fort Meade, Md. There, all of NSA' s 
major contractors, from Booz to SAIC to Northrop Grumman, carry out their surveillance 
and intelligence work for the agency." 

These corporate partnerships extend beyond intelligence and defense contractors to 
include the world's largest and most important Internet corporations and telecoms, precisely 
those companies that handle the bulk of the world's communications and can facilitate access 
to private exchanges. After describing the agency's missions of "Defense (Protect U.S. 
Telecommunications and Computer Systems Against Exploitation)" and "Offense (Intercept 
and Exploit Foreign Signals)," one top secret NSA document enumerates some of the 
services supplied by such corporations: 

NSA Strategic Partnerships 

Alliances with over 80 Major Global Corporations 
Supporting both Missions 

at&t Jfr : Q " m * 

* Telecommunications & EDS 
Network Service Providers j H-P Motorola 

■ Network Infrastructure W / q\$qq V 

* Hardware Platforms Qualcomm 
Desktops /Servers 0>acle 

* Operating Systems IBM | n > c | 
' Applications Software * ■ '. £^^=J 

■ Security Hardware & Software Mlcro3of, _^V W 
- System Integrators VflH - an 


These corporate partnerships, which provide the systems and the access on which the 
NSA depends, are managed by the NSA's highly secret Special Sources Operations unit, the 
division that oversees corporate partnerships. Snowden described the SSO as the "crown 
jewel" of the organization. 

programs overseen by the SSO within its Corporate Partner Access (CPA) portfolio. 

Special Source Operations 

Corporate P artner Acce ss 

Briefed by:f i\auf HFEMcrFn 

As part of these programs, the NSA exploits the access that certain telecom 
companies have to international systems, having entered into contracts with foreign telecoms 
to build, maintain, and upgrade their networks. The US companies then redirect the target 
country's communications data to NSA repositories. 

The core purpose of BLARNEY is depicted in one NSA briefing: 

Relationships & Authorities 

" Leverage unique key corporate partnerships to gain access to 
high-capacity international fiber-optic cables, switches and/or 
routers throughout the world 

BLARNEY relied on one relationship in particular — a long-standing partnership with 
AT&T Inc., according to the Wall Street Journal' s reporting on the program. According to 
the NSA's own files, in 2010 the list of countries targeted by BLARNEY included Brazil, 
France, Germany, Greece, Israel, Italy, Japan, Mexico, South Korea, and Venezuela, as well 
as the European Union and the United Nations. 

FAIR VIEW, another SSO program, also collects what the NSA touts as "massive 
amounts of data" from around the world. And it, too, relies mostly on a single "corporate 
partner" and, in particular, that partner's access to the telecommunications systems of foreign 
nations. The NSA's internal summary of FAIRVIEW is simple and clear: 

Access to massive amounts of data 

Controlfed by variety of legaS authorities 
Most accesses are controlled by partner 

(TStfSl) US-99Q (PDDG-UY) key corporate partner with 
access to international cables, routers, and switches. 

(TStfSI) Key Targets; Glohaf 

According to NSA documents, FAIRVIEW "is typically in the top five at NSA as a 
collection source for serialized production" — meaning ongoing surveillance — "and one of 
the largest providers of metadata." Its overwhelming reliance on one telecom is demonstrated 
by its claim that "approximately 75% of reporting is single source, reflecting the unique 
access the program enjoys to a wide variety of target communications." Though the telecom 
is not identified, one description of the FAIRVIEW partner makes clear its eagerness to 

FAIRUIEW - Corp partner siric^ 1985 with. Access tc int. cables, routers, 
switches. The partner operates in the U.5., but has access to information 
that transits the nation and through its corporate relationships provide 
unique accesses ta other telecoms and I5Ps. Aggressively involved in 
shaping traffic to run signals of interest past our monitors. 

Thanks to such cooperation, the FAIRVIEW program collects vast quantities of 
information about telephone calls. One chart, which covers the thirty-day period beginning 
December 10, 2012, shows that just this program alone was responsible for the collection of 
some two hundred million records each day that month, for a thirty-day total of more than six 
billion records. The light bars are collections of "DNR" (telephone calls), while the dark bars 
are "DM" (Internet activity): 

wiir.-rw.L.i.EDw n- - 

To collect these billions of phone records, the SSO collaborates with the NSA's 
corporate partners as well as with foreign government agencies — for instance, the Polish 
intelligence service: 

( TV/SIV/HF ) <1R*HCECBVSH ( pert t)i the; GAKSTAA program under S$0'$ 

corporate portfolio, began forwarding metadata from a Third party partner 
site < Poland) to MSA i"epositoriei a* of 3 Harth and content a* of lb ft&'th, 

Tlhis prog ran is a c o I labo rat iiic effort between SSOj NCSC, ETC, FAD, an NBA 
Corporate Partner and a division of the Polish Gnvernrrjent . QPJNGECRUSH is 
a.ily known to the Poles as flUFF*LQ4f!£fN. This tiu It i-g roup partnership 
began in Hay 1 Bag and will incorporate the UAKSTftn project of 'JIUWCfcHLOSSUH 

aim iu mn capasititv* me ne* access win provide 5iGi*fT trw ccmercial 
link* mana aed by The fl&fl Corporate Partner and i* anticipated to include 
Atgho* National Army, Hiddle lost, limited African continent, and European 
c-n-u'ications, A nntif lcaticn has been posted to 5PRINGFWlf and this 
collection is available to Second Parties via riCKETwIHDOtf. 

The OAKSTAR program similarly exploits the access that one of the NSA's 
corporate partners (code-named STEELKNIGHT) has to foreign telecommunications 
systems, using that access to redirect data into the NSA's own repositories. Another partner, 
code-named SILVERZEPHYR, appears in a November 11, 2009, document describing work 
done with the company to obtain "internal communications" from both Brazil and Colombia: 

5ILWERZEPHYR FAA DNI Access Initiated at NSAW (TS//SI//NF) 
By | ^.utt^ra, ] on 20&9-11-06 0918 

{TS//SI/7NF) On Thursday, 11/5/09, the SSO-OAKSTAR 
Silverzephyr (Sz) access began forwarding faa oh I records 
to NSAW via the FAA WealthyGluster2/Tellurian system 
installed at the partner's site- SSO coordinated with the 
Data Flow Of fite and forwarded numerous sample files ta a 
test partition for validation, which was completely 
successful. SSQ will continue to monitor the flow and 
collect ion to ensure a ny anomalies are identified and 
corrected as required, silverzephyr will continue to 
provide customers with authorized, transit DNR collection, 
SSD is working with the partner to gain access to an 
additional SBGbs of ON I data on their peering network, 
bundled in 10 Gbs increments. The OAKSTAR team, along with 
support from N5AT and ONDA, just completed a 12 day 5IGINT 
survey at site, which identified over ne* links. During 
the survey, gnda worked with the partner to test the output 
of their ACS system, OAKSTAR is also warning with NSAT to 
examine snapshots taken by the partner in Brazil and 
Cola-tibia, both o* which may contain internal communications 
for those countries. 

Meanwhile, the STORMBREW program, conducted in "close partnership with the 
FBI," gives the NSA access to Internet and telephone traffic that enters the United States at 
various "choke points" on US soil. It exploits the fact that the vast majority of the world's 
Internet traffic at some point flows through the US communications infrastructure — a 
residual by-product of the central role that the United States had played in developing the 
network. Some of these designated choke points are identified by cover names: 


STORMBREW At a Glance 

es - International "Choke Points" 

klJ.L.CNGTOHl "7f 

* IINI'ISNR CiuiilriHiS; nirLulala} 

' Domett jn&sMrurtme oafy 

* C*Mc Swiim'VisrWJtiiuiicr* (13* 


* time pwnwnhip «n*Bl ft NCSC 

Torsmutr w couorrn iwfoeumH i*> 

According to the NSA, STORMBREW "is currently comprised of very sensitive 
relationships with two U.S. telecom providers (cover terms ARTIFICE and WOLFPOINT)." 
Beyond its access to US-based choke points, "the STORMBREW program also manages two 
submarine cable landing access sites; one on the USA west coast (cover term, 
BRECKENRIDGE), and the other on the USA east coast (cover term QUAIL-CREEK)." 

As the profusion of cover names attests, the identity of its corporate partners is one of 
the most closely guarded secrets in the NSA. The documents containing the key to those code 
names are vigilantly safeguarded by the agency and Snowden was unable to obtain many of 
them. Nonetheless, his revelations did unmask some of the companies cooperating with the 
NSA. Most famously, his archive included the PRISM documents, which detailed secret 
agreements between the NSA and the world's largest Internet companies — Facebook, 
Yahoo!, Apple, Google — as well as extensive efforts by Microsoft to provide the agency 
with access to its communications platforms such as Outlook. 

tapping into fiber-optic cables and other forms of infrastructure ("upstream" surveillance, in 
NSA parlance), PRISM allows the NSA to collect data directly from the servers of nine of the 
biggest Internet companies: 

top secrfti-wctwxjk'atoi: 
Gm .11 

X, Gentle 

. lalk" 

ovwm FAA702 Operations 

Twtt Typux vf Caflet lifm 


• Collection of Hjmmunications on fiber wWee 
and infrastruaura as data flows pa&t 


The companies listed on the PRISM slide denied allowing the NSA unlimited access 
to their servers. Facebook and Google, for instance, claimed that they only give the NSA 
information for which the agency has a warrant, and tried to depict PRISM as little more than 
a trivial technical detail: a slightly upgraded delivery system whereby the NSA receives data 
in a "lockbox" that the companies are legally compelled to provide. 

But their argument is belied by numerous points. For one, we know that Yahoo! 
vigorously fought in court against the NSA's efforts to force it to join PRISM — an unlikely 
effort if the program were simply a trivial change to a delivery system. (Yahoo!'s claims 
were rejected by the FISA court, and the company was ordered to participate in PRISM.) 
Second, the Washington Post's Bart Gellman, after receiving heavy criticism for 
"overstating" the impact of PRISM, reinvestigated the program and confirmed that he stood 
by the Post's central claim: "From their workstations anywhere in the world, government 

employees cleared for PRISM access may 'task' the system" — that is, run a search — "and 
receive results from an Internet company without further interaction with the company's 

Third, the Internet companies' denials were phrased in evasive and legalistic fashion, 
often obfuscating more than clarifying. For instance, Facebook claimed not to provide 
"direct access," while Google denied having created a "back door" for the NSA. But as Chris 
Soghoian, the ACLU's tech expert, told Foreign Policy, these were highly technical terms of 
art denoting very specific means to get at information. The companies ultimately did not 
deny that they had worked with the NSA to set up a system through which the agency could 
directly access their customers' data. 

Finally, the NSA itself has repeatedly hailed PRISM for its unique collection 
capabilities and noted that the program has been vital for increasing surveillance. One NSA 
slide details PRISM' s special surveillance powers: 


Cm i 

Yahoo' '4 


n*fljflMR FAA702 Operations 

Why Use Bolh: PRISM vs. Upstream 



9 US. bused service 

>/ sources 

[)Mt Selector* 

^Coming soon 

\/ jmubccs 

Access. to Stored 




"About*" Collection 



Voire Collection 

^^Vbioc over IP 


Direct Reltfioneliipwilri 



Another details the wide range of communications that PRISM enables the NSA to 



Cm il C 

■ talk 

.. PRISM Collection Details 

( qirTL'7i[ I'rnviLler; 

Whai Will VHt Reeeiw fa Callisciid* 
£&ndtltnud Sw»d Cooaut)? 

[L varies by provider. Ln general; 

■ Google 

* Yahoo! 

• Fttcrfjook. 

■ FaJTalk 

• YouTute 

• Stypc 

* AOL 

- Awl* 


Cbal vines, voire- 


5»ttd lliii 

VitLru ( Vui ILrnn iaj; 

N .■!■:!. .ii..-: .rivrjifi .iim "J Idjms.ns 
Online Socii] Kctwmfcing <lcuuli 

[Jumptde ln[ ml drtlih un PRISM wth pap: 

Go presmfaa 


And another NSA slide details how the PRISM program has steadily and 
substantially increased the agency's collection: 

Cm il I 

Yahoo! ^ ^.«-r ^..^ 

(raMitOT) Unique Selectors Tasked to 
PRISM (US-984XN) in FY2012 

All Providers 

■ 1 1 

I VI 1 

I > Over' 
1 1 1 a 

> Over 45,000 Selectors on 
Tashal End oi"FY12 

Strong Growth In FY12 Tasking 

> Skyp* U p 24S% 

V F-acobonk up t31H 
- Gnogln up U% 

/////// .// _ 

TOP SECRET.','SL' l fl«CO.M.',1«OFORj; 

On its internal messaging boards, the Special Source Operation division frequently 
hails the massive collection value PRISM has provided. One message, from November 19, 
2012, is entitled "PRISM Expands Impact: FY12 Metrics": 

(TV/SI//WN PJUSH (US-964*N) expanded Iti lipid <m MS*'s reining 
niiiidn in ma rhrdujh increased talking, iOlletlian and *0c ra t i Sfia I 
iaprnvtucnls. Iterr irr sane hiflilighEi a I I&e FY1.? PRISM program 

FRISfl IS nffSt dtCH Collection fOdr-ce in HSfL 1st f^rty cn||- product 

report ma, Mere NSA product reports utie based an PflJSH than an any ptfier 
jingle SIMffl rar all ef NSA's Isq Parly rape rung durma; FY12: tited in 
IS. IN of all r*aofti [up Itm 14h ifl FYllr- PRISM MM cited in II. *v af all 

lit, 2nd, -n lid 3rd Party tJSA reporting i jp froi* Ln Flfil), and li alio 
tht tpp rltad SICiAS ovarill 

Hurler ai FJ35M-b*s*d e^d-product reports, issued m FU2: 7*,»W, uj 
2T% irai FT11 

Single-SnurCc repDtflirtg percentage in Ftl2 arid flfil: 74% 
Mutter a* product ttpara derived fran PRrSK celleccian and cited as 
taurtti in aru-clej In the Gaily Brief In fYlli 1j177 418% 41 
at I 5IGDH7 reports cited as sources ln ?0B articles - Highest sinale SIGAD 
fof USA) £ In FYlli 1,152 1 15H a* all 5ICJNT reports cited as sources in POB 
articles - highest single SIGU> for MA) 

NuHber af Essential Elements of Infarnaciar, cumirLhuted m in FY12: 
*.1SL 132* a1 all EE!» fur ail Inroniatidn Hendi) ; 229 EEIl addrraKd 
solely by HUSH 

tasking: The- number or tasked selectors rose 12% in FY12 ta 45,485 as 
el Sept 2B12 

Great success is Skyae eoLlettian aad processing; unia.ii*, High value 
targets acquired 

Eipanoed PfUSi CStMiafcl* eHUiL doiuint frat D hl v 4*. to 22.a6(t 

Such congratulatory proclamations do not support the notion of PRISM as only a 
trivial technicality, and they give the lie to Silicon Valley's denials of cooperation. Indeed, 
the New York Times, reporting on the PRISM program after Snowden's revelations, 
described a slew of secret negotiations between the NSA and Silicon Valley about providing 
the agency with unfettered access to the companies' systems. "When government officials 
came to Silicon Valley to demand easier ways for the world's largest Internet companies to 
turn over user data as part of a secret surveillance program, the companies bristled," reported 
the Times. "In the end, though, many cooperated at least a bit." In particular: 
Twitter declined to make it easier for the government. But other companies were more 
compliant, according to people briefed on the negotiations. They opened discussions with 
national security officials about developing technical methods to more efficiently and 
securely share the personal data of foreign users in response to lawful government requests. 
And in some cases, they changed their computer systems to do so. These negotiations, the 
New York Times said, "illustrate how intricately the government and tech companies work 
together, and the depth of their behind-the-scenes transactions." The article also contested 
the companies' claims that they provide the NSA only with access that is legally compelled, 
noting: "While handing over data in response to a legitimate FISA request is a legal 
requirement, making it easier for the government to get the information is not, which is why 
Twitter could decline to do so." 

The Internet companies' claim that they hand over to the NSA just the information 
that they are legally required to provide is also not particularly meaningful. That's because 
the NSA only needs to obtain an individual warrant when it wants to specifically target a US 
person. No such special permission is required for the agency to obtain the communications 
data of any non-American on foreign soil, even when that person is communicating with 
Americans. Similarly, there is no check or limit on the NSA's bulk collection of metadata, 
thanks to the government's interpretation of the Patriot Act — an interpretation so broad that 
even the law's original authors were shocked to learn how it was being used. 

The close collaboration between the NSA and private corporations is perhaps best 
seen in the documents relating to Microsoft, which reveal the company's vigorous efforts to 
give the NSA access to several of its most used online services, including SkyDrive, Skype, 

SkyDrive, which allows people to store their files online and access them from 

various devices, has more than 250 million users worldwide. "We believe it's important that 
you have control over who can and cannot access your personal data in the cloud," 
Microsoft's SkyDrive website proclaims. Yet as an NSA document details, Microsoft spent 
"many months" working to provide the government with easier access to that data: 

ITS//5J//MF] SSO HIGHLIGHT - Microsoft skyanvi? Col lection fclnu Part nf 

pbi sh standard stored cwnmi meat ions collection 

By [ NAME REDACTED ^ nn 2»13-63-fla 158B 

iTS//si//HF) Beolnnlna on 7 Hart'. 3933, phish ne« collects Microsoft 
Skydrive data as part of FRISK': standard Store* Cpnirunicatioos en I lee tin n- 
psttage f*f a tashefl fisa Ameiidnents Act Section. 732 ifjw«) selector, 
This scans that analysts will no longer have to uake a special request Lo 
S-SO far this — a process step that many analysts, may not have known about. 

This new capability will result in a nutn more complete ana timely 
collection response from sso for our Enterprise customers. This success is 

the result of trie FHI narking for many months uttli Kiitrpsoft to get thi* 

tasking mi collection soluiion established. "SkyDrive is a cloud service 

that allows users to store and access their files on a variety nf devices. 
The utility also lrcludes free rfeo app support for Microsoft Office 
programs, so tue user is aele to create, edit, and view word, Peuer Point, 

Excel files without having H5 office actually installed on the^r device." 

(source: sji4 wikl) 

In late 201 1, Microsoft purchased Skype, the Internet-based telephone and chat 
service with over 663 million registered users. At the time of its purchase, Microsoft assured 
users that "Skype is committed to respecting your privacy and the confidentiality of your 
personal data, traffic, and communications content." But in fact, this data, too, was readily 
available to the government. By early 2013, there were multiple messages on the NSA 
system celebrating the agency's steadily improving access to the communications of Skype 

(TV/SIZ/NFI New Skype Stored Cows Capability For prism 
By I tUMMMTwT] on 2013-04-03 9631 

( TV/SIZ/NFJ PRISM has a new celled Ion capability: Skype Jtared 
comnunications. Skype stores coeinunicatlons witl contain itniaue data which 
1* not collected via norwl re»l-tnue surveillance collection. SSO eipects 
to receive buddy lists, credit csra info, call data records, user account 
info, md Ptnf r material, On JJ March iil), $SQ forwarded apPTOXDWttly f<KW 
Skype selectors fur Stared tmiiiunlc.S inn! tn le adjudicated In SW1 in-it the 

Electronic Connunicatlons Surveillance Unit I ECSUh at FSI. SV41 had btti 
uorfcinj on "djutiication for the n:gh«t priority ^clfCtnri ahead Of tin* and 
had olMUJt W ready far EtiU to eval-iate. It rauld take several weeSts far 
SVJ1 to norK through ill 2MB selector^ to gee the* approve*, *mf Still will 
lively take longer to grant the approval;. As of 2 April. CSCU nod approved 
over 34 selectors to be sent to Skype for collection. PAISH Skype collection 
has carveo out a vital niche in NSA reporting in less than two years with 
ttrrorlsn, Syrian opposition »nd reolne, and eicc/ 30*C i"l serie* report's 
□cine, tlf Hp tonics. Over 2££fc reports have iter issued since April 2911 
based on PRISM Skype collection, with 76\ of 

then being single tource. 

■:ts^5]//NFJ SSO Expands WISH Skype Targeting Capability 

By | NAME REDACTED 1 Oh JS] J-64-#5 B&M 

ITS/^SI/ZHF} On is March J913, SSfl's F*ISM program btjan t as King all 
Microsoft PHI5H selectors to Skype because Skype allows users to lag in 
ifiing Mfpunf identifiers lA addition to Skyp* ysernanes. lint i I now, PAISH 
wauU Jiot collect any Skype data when o user logicd in using anything other 
Man the Skype usernane nhicB resulted In Hissing letlattlon; this action 

will mltigot* thi t t. In f*ct, a user cart create * Skypt *sCovnt using *ny 
e-mil address wlfn ony donain in (he world, UTT doeSi not currently sllow 
analysts to task these nen-Hlcrosoft e-aail addresses to PRISh, however, 
SSQ in-tends ra fix thm this iunmcr L In the rreantlne, NSA, Ft! and Dept at 
JottJC* tOOrdinsted nv*r Th* ISSt iii months In a* in »pf) royal for PRINTTAJJRA 
to sfnd all currcflt aim future Microsoft PRISfl selectors to Skypa. This 
resulted in about 9fiB& selectors beinj sent to Skype and successful 
collection hfls frccn recent uh !C h otr^rw.j^e ugold Hjvc oten nisscdr 

Not only was all this collaboration conducted with no transparency, but it 
contradicted public statements made by Skype. ACLU technology expert Chris Soghoian 
said the revelations would surprise many Skype customers. "In the past, Skype made 
affirmative promises to users about their inability to perform wiretaps," he said. "It's hard to 
square Microsoft's secret collaboration with the NSA with its high-profile efforts to compete 
on privacy with Google." 

In 2012, Microsoft began upgrading its email portal,, to merge all of its 
communications services — including the widely used Hotmail — into one central program. 
The company touted the new Outlook by promising high levels of encryption to protect 
privacy, and the NSA quickly grew concerned that the encryption Microsoft offered to 
Outlook customers would block the agency from spying on their communications. One SSO 
memo from August 22, 2012, frets that "using this portal means that email emerging from it 
will be encrypted with the default setting" and that "chat sessions conducted within the portal 
are also encrypted when both communicants are using a Microsoft encrypted chat client." 

But that worry was short-lived. Within a few months, the two entities got together and 
devised methods for the NSA to circumvent the very encryption protections Microsoft was 
publicly advertising as vital for protecting privacy: 

<TS//SI//MF} Microsoft releases new service, affects FAA 792 collection 
8y | .wgHEMcmi ] Ofl M12-12-J6 flBtl 

; I /.'NH On 31 Jul/, Microsoft (MS) began encrypting web-based chat 
with the introduction of the new out loo , c on service. This noj Scc-jrc- 
Socket Layer (SSL) encryption effectively cut off collection of the new 

service for FfcA T!2 a«4t likely 12J33 (to sone: degreet for Che Intelligence 
(QMunity 4itk ms, working with the fbi, develop** a surveillance 

iipabillty to deal with the new The-s* solutions were *i*ue»ifully 

tested and went live 1? Dee 2612. The SSL tplutlgii w.ii applied to all 
current FISA ard T63/PR.ISM requirement* - up changes tp UTT tSiklng 
procedures were required. The ML solution does not collect server-based 
voice/Video or file transfers. The MS legacy collection system will renain 
in place to collect voice/video and file transfers. As a result there will 
** SOne duplicate collection gf text -ttj ted fhsl from the new «nd legacy 
systcn* whi<*i will be frittreiSeti .n .i U:rr date, An inert*** in collection 
volune is o result of This solution h«s already been noted by CE5. 

Another document describes further collaboration between Microsoft and the FBI, as 
that agency also sought to ensure that new Outlook features did not interfere with its 
surveillance habits: "The FBI Data Intercept Technology Unit (DITU) team is working with 
Microsoft to understand an additional feature in which allows users to create 
email aliases, which may affect our tasking process.. . . There are compartmented and other 
activities underway to mitigate these problems." 

Finding this mention of FBI surveillance in Snowden's archive of internal NSA 
documents was not an isolated occurrence. The entire intelligence community is able to 
access the information that the NSA collects: it routinely shares its vast trove of data with 
other agencies, including the FBI and the CIA. One principal purpose of the NSA's great 
spree of data collection was precisely to boost the spread of information across the board. 
Indeed, almost every document pertaining to the various collection programs mentions the 
inclusion of other intelligence units. This 2012 entry from the NSA's SSO unit, on sharing 
PRISM data, gleefully declares that "PRISM is a team sport!": 

Expanding PRISM Sharing With FBI and CIA 

I T5//SI//NF ! Special Source Operations (SSjOI has recently 
expanded sharing with the Federal Bureau of Investigations 
(FBI) and the Central Intelligence Agency {CM) on PRISM 
operations via two projects. Through these efforts, SSQ has 
crested an environment of sharing and teaming across the 
Intelligence Community on prism ape rations. First, SSO's 
iPRDiTAuira lean solved a problem tor the Signals 
Intelligence Directorate ISIO) by writing software which 
would automatically gather a list of tasked PftISM selectors 
every two weeks to provide to the FBI and CIA. Ihls enables 
our partners to see which selectors the National Security 
Agency (NSAJ has tasked to PRISM, The FBI and CIA then can 
request a copy oi PRISM collection fro* any selector, as 
allowed under the 2668 foreign Intelligence Surveillance 
Act {FISAJ Amendments Act law. Prior to PRJNTftuHA's work. 
SID had been providing the FBI and CIA with incomplete and 
inaccurate lists, preventing our partners from making full 
use- of the PRISM progrii-. PRINT AURA volunteered to gather 
the detailed data related to each selector fro* multiple 
locations and assemble it in a usable fern. In the second 
project, the prism Mission Prog ram Manager (mph) recently 
began sending operational prism news and guidance to the 
FBI and CIA so that their analysts could task the PRISM 
system properly, be aware of outages and changes, and 
optl*ite their use of prism. The coordinated an 
agreement froa the SID Foreign intelligence Surveillance 
Act Amendments Act <FAA) Team to share this information 
vec-xly, which has been well-received and appreciated* These 
t^i^tt d d A v Jit ^ 5 5 y^dflrscs f fi \ he p & i n ^ t h 3 1 Pft 1 i & s t c 3 ^ 
sport i 

"Upstream" collection (from fiber-optic cables) and direct collection from the servers 
of Internet companies (PRISM) account for most of the records gathered by the NSA. In 
addition to such sweeping surveillance, though, the NSA also carries out what it calls 
Computer Network Exploitation (CNE), placing malware in individual computers to surveil 
their users. When the agency succeeds in inserting such malware, it is able, in NSA 
terminology, to "own" the computer: to view every keystroke entered and every screen 
viewed. The Tailored Access Operations (TAO) division responsible for this work is, in 
effect, the agency's own private hacker unit. 

The hacking practice is quite widespread in its own right: one NSA document 
indicates that the agency has succeeded in infecting at least fifty thousand individual 
computers with a type of malware called "Quantum Insertion." One map shows the places 
where such operations have been performed and the number of successful insertions: 

Using Snowden documents, the New York Times reported that the NSA has in fact 
implanted this particular software "in nearly 100,000 computers around the world." 
Although the malware is usually installed by "gaining access to computer networks, the NSA 
has increasingly made use of a secret technology that enables it to enter and alter data in 

computers even if they are not connected to the Internet." 

* * * 

Beyond its work with compliant telecoms and Internet companies, the NSA has also 
colluded with foreign governments to construct its far-reaching surveillance system. Broadly 
speaking, the NSA has three different categories of foreign relationships. The first is with the 
Five Eyes group: the US spies with these countries, but rarely on them, unless requested to by 
those countries' own officials. The second tier involves countries that the NSA works with 
for specific surveillance projects while also spying on them extensively. The third group is 
comprised of countries on which the United States routinely spies but with whom it virtually 
never cooperates. 

Within the Five Eyes group, the closest NSA ally is the British GCHQ. As the 
Guardian reported, based on documents provided by Snowden, "The U.S. government has 
paid at least £100m to the UK spy agency GCHQ over the last three years to secure access to 
and influence over Britain's intelligence gathering programs." Those payments were an 
incentive to GCHQ to support the NSA's surveillance agenda. "GCHQ must pull its weight 
and be seen to pull its weight," a secret GCHQ strategy briefing said. 

The Five Eyes members share most of their surveillance activities and meet each year 
at a Signals Development conference, where they boast of their expansion and the prior 
year's successes. Former NSA deputy director John Inglis has said of the Five Eyes alliance 
that they "practice intelligence in many regards in a combined way — essentially make sure 
that we leverage one another's capabilities for mutual benefit." 

Many of the most invasive surveillance programs are carried out by the Five Eyes 
partners, a substantial number of these involving the GCHQ. Of special note are the British 
agency's joint efforts with the NSA to break the common encryption techniques that are used 

to safeguard personal Internet transactions, such as online banking and retrieval of medical 
records. The two agencies' success in setting up backdoor access to those encryption systems 
not only allowed them to peer at people's private dealings, but also weakened the systems for 
everyone, making them more vulnerable to malicious hackers and to other foreign 
intelligence agencies. 

The GCHQ has also conducted mass interception of communications data from the 
world's underwater fiber-optic cables. Under the program name Tempora, the GCHQ 
developed the "ability to tap into and store huge volumes of data drawn from fibre-optic 
cables for up to 30 days so that it can be sifted and analysed," the Guardian reported, and the 
"GCHQ and the NSA are consequently able to access and process vast quantities of 
communications between entirely innocent people." The intercepted data encompass all 
forms of online activity, including "recordings of phone calls, the content of email messages, 
entries on Facebook, and the history of any internet user's access to websites." 

The GCHQ's surveillance activities are every bit as comprehensive — and 
unaccountable — as the NSA's. As the Guardian noted: 

The sheer scale of the agency's ambition is reflected in the titles of its two principal 
components: Mastering the Internet and Global Telecoms Exploitation, aimed at scooping up 
as much online and telephone traffic as possible. This is all being carried out without any 
form of public acknowledgement or debate. Canada is also a very active partner with the 
NSA and an energetic surveillance force in its own right. At the 2012 SigDev conference, the 
Communications Services Establishment Canada (CSEC) boasted about targeting the 
Brazilian Ministry of Mines and Energy, the agency in Brazil that regulates the industry of 
greatest interest to Canadian companies: 





# CSEC - Advanced Network TmdecraflL 

^ H1J LonfrrcTicr: June 20] 2 

(JwniH ClBuifirutlnn: TO! 1 SKCHEIVfin 


CSEC's. Nutwdtk Knuwlirfige Enginu 

Chained cnrichmcnta 
&njtomjtfed analysis 

Brazilian Ministry uf Mine.H and Energy (MMK) 

New target to develop 
Limited at«sss/tfln3et knowledge 

There is evidence of widespread CSEC/NS A cooperation, including Canada' s efforts 
to set up spying posts for communications surveillance around the world at the behest and for 
the benefit of the NSA, and spying on trading partners targeted by the US agency. 

National SMUrity Agency/ 
Cent r Ml Security Service 

Information Paper 

Street: (UflFGUOJ NSA Intelligence Relationship with Canada's 
Communications Security Establishment Canada (CSEC) 

3 April 2033 

4U) WllJt MSA f,fmU*l IS lh* (MltXi; 

jSffSMffiEL TO 

aavslotnwoTi. dipttfogic copatetti, software- and reEouicvs f« slalfi-cl- 
processing 1M rnialytie elMrts. and IA capabilities The iincllnjeiKS Mcttarg d w*h CSEC (***h 
*orkf»irfe liaBonal and IraiKJiabono. laigott, N P Cans^lad Cryptotoglt P Bgnrfi (CCP) 
money faaftraDed to CS£C, twt *tS A «l (im*a pay* FUID and teotmokjjy Hub mi shared 
projects**! CSEC. 

(II) What me partnar pmvktss to H3A: 

fTStfguwna tq us a. can> CSEC nwiH^t (bradv?»w 
analysis, unci hut op*t*d eowtftttj at lha reqyoit** Hr 
unique olographic aooass to Mtm imawatebte la rhe U.S. 

pravHea Hyptogtfaphfc prndutia, oyetflnalyai*. technology, 
its mwslmeiM in ftAD projects cl mutual Inlaresl. 

IT, arm Mfirware. cgtft: ir>cfeai« 

The Five Eyes relationship is so close that member governments place the NSA's 
desires above the privacy of their own citizens. The Guardian reported on one 2007 memo, 
for instance, describing an agreement "that allowed the agency to 'unmask' and hold on to 
personal data about Britons that had previously been off limits." Additionally, the rules were 
changed in 2007 "to allow the NSA to analyse and retain any British citizens' mobile phone 
and fax numbers, emails and IP addresses swept up by its dragnet." 

Going a step further, in 201 1 the Australian government explicitly pleaded with the 
NSA to "extend" their partnership and subject Australian citizens to greater surveillance. In a 
February 21 letter, the acting deputy director of Australia's Intelligence Defence Signals 
Directorate wrote to the NSA's Signals Intelligence Directorate, claiming that Australia 
"now face[s] a sinister and determined threat from 'home grown' extremists active both 
abroad and within Australia." He requested increased surveillance on the communications of 
Australian citizens deemed suspicious by their government: 

While we have inveved sign:iicai!.1 analytic and eoiletfiOn 
effort of uuj- uwra lo find and exploit these ooftimnucatioiw, the dirHcutties we face in 
orrinhiuig icgulai and itliabtx 1 iitttf&s lu suuh nuiLiajiiLViilicms impacts on tmr ability [a dctcci 
and prevent lerorrist ;ut* and diminish*!* tntf csjxiciJy W pnn™i ike life imd safely of 
AUSSraJiirj citizens airi Ihostof nur close friends, and rdliev 

We liWv <:ijuyed a lung und very productive parriucrahip. with NSA in obtainisifi minimised 
access to Unhid SiatB warffinied caUediOn ngiuirsl our hijjjtcs; value terrorist Isrjpts in 
Indonesia. This access has nee a till ical to DSD's efforts to tiisrup? and contain (he operational 
cupabi lilies of [cmniEls in tmr region a* hijhSijhterf hv ifo rtcenl Urea df fn&ilive Bali 

We would very much welcome the tipfwrluiLky eitind J Juil pettiKtsSiip wilh NSA to eavcr 
(he iTKrrasinE number of Australia* invoJwJ Id ifilernalioiird tsdieinia aulivLtio - in 
pamcular Australian* involved with AQrtP 

Beyond the Five Eyes partners, the NSA's next level of cooperation is with its Tier B 
allies: countries that have some limited cooperation with the agency and are also targeted 
themselves for aggressive, unrequested surveillance. The NSA has clearly delineated these 
two levels of alliances: 




Comprehensive Cooperation 

New /e a Sand 
United Kingdom 


Focused Cooperation 



Czech Republic 










South Korea 





Using different designations (referring to Tier B as Third Parties), a more recent NSA 
document — from the Fiscal Year 2013 "Foreign Partner Review" — shows an expanding list 
of NSA partners, including international organizations such as NATO: 

Approved SIGINT Partners W> 

New Zealand 
United Kingdom 


Cierti Republec 



















Saudi Arabia 







As with the GCHQ, the NSA often maintains these partnerships by paying its partner 
to develop certain technologies and engage in surveillance, and can thus direct how the 
spying is carried out. The Fiscal Year 2012 "Foreign Partner Review" reveals numerous 
countries that have received such payments, including Canada, Israel, Japan, Jordan, 
Pakistan, Taiwan, and Thailand: 

In particular, the NSA has a surveillance relationship with Israel that often entails 
cooperation as close as the Five Eyes partnership, if not sometimes even closer. A 
Memorandum of Understanding between the NSA and the Israeli intelligence service details 
how the United States takes the unusual step of routinely sharing with Israel raw intelligence 
containing the communications of American citizens. Among the data furnished to Israel are 
"unevaluated and unminimized transcripts, gists, facsimiles, telex, voice, and Digital 
Network Intelligence metadata and content." 

What makes this sharing particularly egregious is that the material is sent to Israel 
without having undergone the legally required process of "minimization." The minimization 
procedures are supposed to ensure that when the NSA's bulk surveillance sweeps up some 
communications data that even the agency's very broad guidelines do not permit it to collect, 
such information is destroyed as soon as possible and not disseminated further. As the law is 
written, the minimization requirements already have plenty of loopholes, including 
exemptions for "significant foreign intelligence information" or any "evidence of a crime." 
But when it comes to disseminating data to Israeli intelligence, the NSA has apparently 
dispensed with such legalities altogether. 

The memo flatly states: "NSA routinely sends ISNU [the Israeli SIGINT National 
Unit] minimized and unminimized raw collection." 

Highlighting how a country can both cooperate on surveillance and be a target at the 
same time, an NSA document recounting the history of Israel's cooperation noted "trust 
issues which revolve around previous ISR operations," and identified Israel as one of the 
most aggressive surveillance services acting against the United States: 

[TS f{ SI ffR E L] Tli e re a re a Lsq a few surpr j ses... France ta rgc ts th e US DoD 
through technical intelligence col Lection, and Israel a Lso targets us. On the 
one hand, the Israelis are extraordinarily good SI CI [NT partners for us. but 
on the other, they tai'gc t us to learn our p os ili ons ati M i dale Eas t p roll Ln-ms . 
A Hit [National Intelligence Estimate] ranked them as the third most 
aggressive intelligence sc-rvJce against the USj 

The same report observed that, despite the close relationship between American and 

Israeli intelligence agencies, the extensive information provided to Israel by the United 
States produced little in return. Israeli intelligence was only interested in collecting data that 
helped them. As the NSA complained, the partnership was geared "almost totally" to Israel's 

Balancing the SIGINT exchange equally between US 
and Israeli needs has heen a constant challenge in the 
last decadti, it arguably lilted heavily in favor oflsraeli 
security concerns 9/11 came, arid went, with NSAs 
only true Third Party CT relation ship being driven 
almost totally by the needs of the partner. 

Another rung lower, below the Five Eyes partners and second-tier countries such as 
Israel, the third tier is composed of countries who are often targets but never partners of US 
spying programs. Those predictably include governments viewed as adversaries, such as 
China, Russia, Iran, Venezuela, and Syria. But the third tier also includes countries ranging 
from the generally friendly to neutral, such as Brazil, Mexico, Argentina, Indonesia, Kenya, 
and South Africa. 

* * * 

When the NSA revelations first came out, the US government tried to defend its 
actions by saying that, unlike foreign nationals, American citizens are protected from 
warrantless NSA surveillance. On June 18, 2013, President Obama told Charlie Rose: "What 
I can say unequivocally is that if you are a U.S. person, the NSA cannot listen to your 
telephone calls ... by law and by rule, and unless they ... go to a court, and obtain a warrant, 
and seek probable cause, the same way it's always been." The GOP chairman of the House 
Intelligence Committee, Mike Rogers, similarly told CNN that the NSA "is not listening to 
Americans' phone calls. If it did, it is illegal. It is breaking the law." 

This was a rather odd line of defense: in effect, it told the rest of the world that the 
NSA does assault the privacy of non-Americans. Privacy protections, apparently, are only for 
American citizens. This message prompted such international outrage that even Facebook 
CEO Mark Zuckerberg, not exactly known for his vehement defense of privacy, complained 
that the US government "blew it" in its response to the NSA scandal by jeopardizing the 
interests of international Internet companies: "The government said don't worry, we're not 
spying on any Americans. Wonderful, that's really helpful for companies trying to work with 
people around the world. Thanks for going out there and being clear. I think that was really 

Aside from being a strange strategy, the claim is also patently false. In fact, contrary 
to the repeated denials of President Obama and his top officials, the NSA continuously 
intercepts the communications of American citizens, without any individual "probable 
cause" warrants to justify such surveillance. That's because the 2008 FISA law, as noted 
earlier, allows the NSA — without an individual warrant — to monitor the content of any 
American's communications as long as those communications are exchanged with a targeted 
foreign national. The NSA labels this "incidental" collection, as though it's some sort of 
minor accident that the agency has been spying on Americans. But the implication is 
deceitful. As Jameel Jaffer, the deputy legal director of the ACLU, explained: 
The government often says that this surveillance of Americans' communications is 
"incidental," which makes it sound like the NSA's surveillance of Americans' phone calls 

and emails is inadvertent and, even from the government's perspective, regrettable. But when 
the Bush administration officials asked Congress for this new surveillance power, they said 
quite explicitly that Americans' communications were the communications of most interest 
to them. See, for example, FISA for the 21st century, Hearing Before the S. Comm. On the 
Judiciary, 109th Cong. (2006) (statement of Michael Hayden), that certain communications 
"with one end in the United States" are the ones "that are most important to us. "The principal 
purpose of the 2008 law was to make it possible for the government to collect Americans' 
international communications — and to collect those communications without reference to 
whether any party to those communications was doing anything illegal. And a lot of the 
government's advocacy is meant to obscure this fact, but it's a crucial one: The government 
doesn't need to "target" Americans in order to collect huge volumes of their communications. 

Yale Law School professor Jack Balkin concurred that the FISA law of 2008 
effectively gave the president the authority to run a program "similar in effect to the 
warrantless surveillance program" that had been secretly implemented by George Bush. 
"These programs may inevitably include many phone calls involving Americans, who may 
have absolutely no connection to terrorism or to Al Qaeda." 

Further discrediting Obama's assurances is the subservient posture of the FISA court, 
which grants almost every surveillance request that the NSA submits. Defenders of the NSA 
frequently tout the FISA court process as evidence that the agency is under effective 
oversight. However, the court was set up not as a genuine check on the government's power 
but as a cosmetic measure, providing just the appearance of reform to placate public anger 
over surveillance abuses revealed in the 1970s. 

The uselessness of this institution as a true check on surveillance abuses is obvious 
because the FISA court lacks virtually every attribute of what our society generally 
understands as the minimal elements of a justice system. It meets in complete secrecy; only 
one party — the government — is permitted to attend the hearings and make its case; and the 
court's rulings are automatically designated "Top Secret." Tellingly, for years the FISA court 
was housed in the Department of Justice, making clear its role as a part of the executive 
branch rather than as an independent judiciary exercising real oversight. 

The results have been exactly what one would expect: the court almost never rejects 
specific NSA applications to target Americans with surveillance. From its inception, FISA 
has been the ultimate rubber stamp. In its first twenty-four years, from 1978 to 2002, the 
court rejected a total of zero government applications while approving many thousands. In 
the subsequent decade, through 2012, the court has rejected just eleven government 
applications. In total, it has approved more than twenty thousand requests. 

One of the provisions of the 2008 FISA law requires the executive branch annually to 
disclose to Congress the number of eavesdropping applications the court receives and then 
approves, modifies, or rejects. The disclosure for 2012 showed that the court approved every 
single one of the 1,788 applications for electronic surveillance that it considered, while 
"modifying" — that is, narrowing the purview of the order — in just 40 cases, or less than 3 

Apfi|J<*ti(Hii Mark to tbc ForriRii UftUig*«« SprvelU"" Court During CiuWar 
YenriJeiJ (sccticn 1Q7 of flue Ac!. JO U.S.C, 5 1807) 

During calendar yHtf 20 1 J, "^a Government i ,556 applications to ibc F<nsign 
lalitLlijenK SUrveiiLintfl Coun (the "FISC") fsrawliwily to tzarfucl tlccrromesurrallaaK 
ajicVflf phyjical searches for foreign urtelLgcrjcc purposes. The ! h r»Sf applications iaeltdc 

"| ■!!. ;: i c&ir «-3cl> !" ■! y'l-.lru:: c survei ~, :rr i.-iii*- Jc »letj rsr phyocal seareb, 

MKJ wm^i'-cd a pplicadiatE requesting anthDiiiy for efeclroali turvedUaiKa mil physical seirch. 
Of Ibese, 1,7*9 apcJicatiaiLS includes request! fisr liabofily W CttKfuct «fec&«fc sjrvopilanM. 

Oflhe*: 1,7*9 Sgiptintlocui, ooe was uitbdrawiby the -Go'venutlent. The FISG^i Ml 
deny any apjMttlioni is. whok or in pwt 

Much the same was true of 201 1, when the NSA reported 1,676 applications; the 
FISA court, while modifying 30 of them, "did not deny any applications in whole, or in part." 

The court's subservience to the NSA is demonstrated by other statistics as well. Here, 
for instance, is the FISA court's reaction over the last six years to various requests made by 
the NSA under the Patriot Act to obtain the business records — telephone, financial or 
medical — of US persons: 

Gov't surveillance requests to FISA court 

Number oF bus n«i records- hjrnbcroF mquciis 
f oqifts-ts nudt by U.5. Govt rejtLted by Fli* tourl 

Thus, even in those limited cases when approval from the FISA court is needed to 
target someone's communications, the process is more of an empty pantomime than a 
meaningful check on the NSA. 

Another layer of oversight for the NSA is ostensibly provided by the congressional 
intelligence committees, also created in the aftermath of the surveillance scandals of the 
1970s, but they are even more supine than the FISA court. While they are supposed to 
conduct "vigilant legislative oversight" over the intelligence community, those committees 
are in fact currently headed by the most devoted NSA loyalists in Washington: Democrat 
Dianne Feinstein in the Senate and Republican Mike Rogers in the House. Rather than offer 
any sort of adversarial check on the NSA's operations, the Feinstein and Rogers committees 
exist primarily to defend and justify anything the agency does. 

As the New Yorker's Ryan Lizza put it in a December 2013 article, instead of 
providing oversight, the Senate committee more often "treats senior intelligence officials like 
matinee idols." Observers of the committee's hearings on NSA activities were shocked by 
how the senators approached the questioning of NSA officials who appeared before them. 
The "questions" typically contained nothing more than long monologues by the senators 
about their recollections of the 9/1 1 attack and how vital it was to prevent attacks in the future. 
The committee members waved away the opportunity to interrogate those officials and 

perform their oversight responsibilities, instead propagandizing in defense of the NSA. The 
scene perfectly captured the true function of the intelligence committees over the last decade. 

Indeed, the chairs of the congressional committees have sometimes defended the 
NSA even more vigorously than the agency's officials themselves have done. At one point, 
in August 2013, two members of Congress — Democrat Alan Grayson of Florida and 
Republican Morgan Griffith of Virginia — separately approached me to complain that the 
House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence was blocking them and other members 
from accessing the most basic information about the NSA. They each gave me letters they 
had written to the staff of Chairman Rogers requesting information about NSA programs 
being discussed in the media. Those requests were rebuffed again and again. 

In the wake of our Snowden stories, a group of senators from both parties who had 
long been concerned with surveillance abuses began efforts to draft legislation that would 
impose real limits on the NSA's powers. But these reformers, led by Democratic senator Ron 
Wyden of Oregon, ran into an immediate roadblock: counterefforts by the NSA's defenders 
in the Senate to write legislation that would provide only the appearance of reform, while in 
fact retaining or even increasing the NSA's powers. As Slate's Dave Weigel reported in 

Critics of the NSA's bulk data collection and surveillance programs have never been worried 
about congressional inaction. They've expected Congress to come up with something that 
looked like reform but actually codified and excused the practices being exposed and 
pilloried. That's what's always happened — every amendment or reauthorization to the 2001 
USA Patriot Act has built more back doors than walls. "We will be up against a 
'business-as-usual brigade' — made up of influential members of the government's 
intelligence leadership, their allies in thinktanks [sic] and academia, retired government 
officials, and sympathetic legislators," warned Oregon Sen. Ron Wyden last month. "Their 
endgame is ensuring that any surveillance reforms are only skin-deep.. . . Privacy protections 
that don't actually protect privacy are not worth the paper they're printed on." The 
"fake reform" faction was led by Dianne Feinstein, the very senator who is charged with 
exercising primary oversight over the NSA. Feinstein has long been a devoted loyalist of the 
US national security industry, from her vehement support for the war on Iraq to her steadfast 
backing of Bush-era NSA programs. (Her husband, meanwhile, has major stakes in various 
military contracts.) Clearly, Feinstein was a natural choice to head a committee that claims to 
carry out oversight over the intelligence community but has for years performed the opposite 

Thus, for all the government's denials, the NSA has no substantial constraints on 
whom it can spy on and how. Even when such constraints nominally exist — when American 
citizens are the surveillance target — the process has become largely hollow. The NSA is the 
definitive rogue agency: empowered to do whatever it wants with very little control, 
transparency, or accountability. 

* * * 

Very broadly speaking, the NSA collects two types of information: content and 
metadata. "Content" here refers to actually listening to people's phone calls or reading their 
emails and online chats, as well as reviewing Internet activity such as browsing histories and 
search activities. "Metadata" collection, meanwhile, involves amassing data about those 
communications. The NSA refers to that as "information about content (but not the content 

Metadata about an email message, for instance, records who emailed whom, when the 
email was sent, and the location of the person sending it. When it comes to telephone calls, 
the information includes the phone numbers of the caller and the receiver, how long they 
spoke for, and often their locations and the types of devices they used to communicate. In one 
document about telephone calls, the NSA outlined the metadata it accesses and stores: 

[S/n-iFy MSA popufslBS these fields m PROTON: 

• Callad & calling numbm, tfxlt, tlm* 1 dunlten of call 

(S//5U/REL) ICREACH ussrs will saa iBtaptamy metadata* in the following UbIde: 


DURATION - Unglh of Ciri 

CALLED FAX \CBt\ -Ctitoi SubtcrltHr 


Trun&mtffllng Subscriber (D 
IMS* International Mobil? Subscriber 

TWSI - Temporary Mobile SVubicrl be r 

IMEI - International Mobile £ qu iprmc-nt 

MSISDN - Mobile Subscriber I nigral ad 

Serves* Digital HMwork 
MDN - Nebtto Dlfltal Number 
CU - Coll Linn IdnnttFiar |Callor ID) 

D5ME- D**ikn»Uon Shon Mtasagt 


OiSME - Originating Shon Mflvmrgo 


VLR - Visitor Location Ragiitor 

The US government has insisted that much of the surveillance revealed in the 
Snowden archive involves the collection of "metadata, not content," trying to imply that this 
kind of spying is not intrusive — or at least not to the same degree as intercepting content. 
Dianne Feinstein has explicitly argued in USA Today that the metadata collection of all 
Americans' telephone records "is not surveillance" at all because it "does not collect the 
content of any communication." 

These disingenuous arguments obscure the fact that metadata surveillance can be at 
least as intrusive as content interception, and often even more so. When the government 
knows everyone you call and everyone who calls you, plus the exact length of all those phone 
conversations; when it can list every single one of your email correspondents and every 
location from where your emails were sent, it can create a remarkably comprehensive picture 
of your life, your associations, and your activities, including some of your most intimate and 
private information. 

In an affidavit filed by the ACLU challenging the legality of the NSA's metadata 
collection program, Princeton computer science and public affairs professor Edward Felten 
explained why metadata surveillance can be especially revealing: 

Consider the following hypothetical example: A young woman calls her gynecologist; then 
immediately calls her mother; then a man who, during the past few months, she had 
repeatedly spoken to on the telephone after 1 1pm; followed by a call to a family planning 
center that also offers abortions. A likely storyline emerges that would not be as evident by 
examining the record of a single telephone call. Even for a single phone call, the 
metadata can be more informative than the call's content. Listening in on a woman calling an 
abortion clinic might reveal nothing more than someone confirming an appointment with a 
generic-sounding establishment ("East Side Clinic" or "Dr. Jones's office"). But the 

metadata would show far more than that: it would reveal the identity of those who were 
called. The same is true of calls to a dating service, a gay and lesbian center, a drug addiction 
clinic, an HIV specialist, or a suicide hotline. Metadata would likewise unmask a 
conversation between a human rights activist and an informant in a repressive regime, or a 
confidential source calling a journalist to reveal high-level wrongdoing. And if you 
frequently call someone late at night who is not your spouse, the metadata will reveal that, 
too. What's more, it will record not only all the people with whom you communicate and 
how often, but also all the people with whom your friends and associates communicate, 
creating a comprehensive picture of your network of contacts. 

Indeed, as Professor Felten notes, eavesdropping on calls can be quite difficult due to 
language differences, meandering conversations, the use of slang or deliberate codes, and 
other attributes that either by design or accident obfuscate the meaning. "The content of calls 
are far more difficult to analyze in an automated fashion due to their unstructured nature," he 
argued. By contrast, metadata is mathematical: clean, precise, and thus easily analyzed. And 
as Felten put it, it is often "a proxy for content": 

Telephony metadata can . . . expose an extraordinary amount about our habits and our 
associations. Calling patterns can reveal when we are awake and asleep; our religion, if a 
person regularly makes no calls on the Sabbath, or makes a large number of calls on 
Christmas day; our work habits and our social aptitude; the number of friends we have; and 
even our civil and political affiliations. In sum, writes Felten, "mass collection not only 
allows the government to learn information about more people, but it also enables the 
government to learn new, previously private facts that it could not have learned simply by 
collecting the information about a few, specific individuals." 

Concern about the many uses that the government could find for this kind of sensitive 
information is especially justified because, contrary to repeated claims from President 
Obama and the NSA, it is already clear that a substantial number of the agency's activities 
have nothing to do with antiterrorism efforts or even with national security. Much of the 
Snowden archive revealed what can only be called economic espionage: eavesdropping and 
email interception aimed at the Brazilian oil giant Petrobras, economic conferences in Latin 
America, energy companies in Venezuela and Mexico, and spying by the NSA's 
allies — including Canada, Norway, and Sweden — on the Brazilian Ministry of Mines and 
Energy and energy companies in several other countries. 

One remarkable document presented by the NSA and the GCHQ detailed numerous 
surveillance targets that were plainly economic in nature: Petrobras, the SWIFT banking 
system, the Russian oil company Gazprom, and the Russian airline Aeroflot. 


Private Networks are Important 

J Many targets use private networks. 






H i:«.iMJ 



a Evidence in Survey: 30%-40% of traffic in 
BLACKPEARL has at least one endpoint private. 

For years, President Obama and his top officials vehemently denounced China for 
using its surveillance capabilities for economic advantage while insisting that the United 
States and its allies never do any such thing. The Washington Post quoted an NSA 
spokesperson saying that the Department of Defense, of which the agency is a part, '"does 
engage' in computer network exploitation," but "does ***not*** engage in economic 
espionage in any domain, including 'cyber'" [emphatic asterisks in the original]. 

That the NSA spies for precisely the economic motive it has denied is proven by its 
own documents. The agency acts for the benefit of what it calls its "customers," a list that 
includes not only the White House, the State Department, and the CIA, but also primarily 
economic agencies, such as the US Trade Representative and the Departments of Agriculture, 
Treasury, and Commerce: 


Major Finished 





National Intelligence 


Law Enforcement; 

White House 

Cabinet Officers 

Director Central Intelligence 

U.S. Ambassadors 

U.S. Trade Representative 


Departments of; 







Homeland Security 


Taste Forces 
Tactical Commands 
All Military Services 
Department of Defense 

UN Forces 

In its description of the BLARNEY program, the NSA lists the types of information it 
is supposed to provide to its customers as "counter terrorism," "diplomatic" — and 

(TStfSI) US-984 (PDDG: AX) - provides collection 
against DNR and DNI FISA Court Order authorized 

(TS//SI) Key Targets: Diplomatic establishment, 
counterterrorism, Foreign Government, Economic 

Further evidence of the NSA's economic interest appears in a PRISM document 
showing a "sampling" of the "Reporting Topics" for the week of February 2-8, 2013. A list 
of the types of information gathered from various countries clearly includes economic and 
financial categories, among them "energy," "trade," and "oil": 




H rrs*5LVNn A Week in the Life of PRISM Reporting J^^^^^^S) 
ff Sampfittg of Reporting 1dpi cs /mm 2-8 Feb 2013 ^^AWtf 


• kMBrnal security 
. Political Aft** 

* •!:••!•• 

■ Tint)* 

■ tml 

■ wanaiueie 

One 2006 memorandum from the global capabilities manager of the agency's 
International Security Issues (IS I) mission spells out the NSA's economic and trade 
espionage — against countries as diverse as Belgium, Japan, Brazil, and Germany — in stark 

(U>NSA Washington Mission 
(U> Residual 

(TSrtSf) LSI is responsible for 1 3 individual nation titles, in three continents. One 
significant tic thai bind;* all these countries together is their importance to CS. 

ejtOnomic, trade. and defense ecirtcems.- The Western Hunipc and Strategic 

Partnershipi divMoa primarily focuses on foreign, policy and trade activities of 
Belgium, Prance, Germany, Italy, and Spain, as well ss Brazil, Japan and Mexico. 

(TSi'.-'SJ) The Energy mid Resource branch provides uuiuue intelligence on 
worldwide energy product inn and; development in key countries, that affect the 
world economy, Targets of c i •■ ■ .m ■ ^^^^^^^H^ 1 ' : 

Repurtinj; him ictL luded [he 
international investment in die energy sectors of target countries, electrical and 
Supervisory Omlra] and Data Acquisition (SCAD A) upgrades, and computer 
aided designs of projected cncjgy projects. 

Reporting on a group of GCHQ documents leaked by Snowden, the New York Times 
noted that its surveillance targets often included financial institutions and "heads of 
international aid organizations, foreign energy companies and a European Union official 
involved in antitrust battles with American technology businesses." It added that the US and 
British agencies "monitored the communications of senior European Union officials, foreign 
leaders including African heads of state and sometimes their family members, directors of 
United Nations and other relief programs [such as UNICEF], and officials overseeing oil and 
finance ministries." 

The reasons for economic espionage are clear enough. When the United States uses 
the NSA to eavesdrop on the planning strategies of other countries during trade and 
economic talks, it can gain enormous advantage for American industry. In 2009, for example, 
Assistant Secretary of State Thomas Shannon wrote a letter to Keith Alexander, offering his 
"gratitude and congratulations for the outstanding signals intelligence support" that the State 

Department received regarding the Fifth Summit of the Americas, a conference devoted to 
negotiating economic accords. In the letter, Shannon specifically noted that the NSA's 
surveillance provided the United States with negotiating advantages over the other parties: 

The more than 100 
reports wt received from the N'SA gave us deep insight into the p]anfl arid 
intensions of other Summit participants, and ensured thai our diplomats were well 
prepared to advise President Obama and Secretary Clinton on how to deal with 
contentious issues, such as Cuba, and interact with difficult counterparts, such as 
Venezuelan President Chavez. 

The NSA is equally devoted to diplomatic espionage, as the documents referring to 
"political affairs" demonstrate. One particularly egregious example, from 201 1, shows how 
the agency targeted two Latin American leaders — Dilma Rousseff, the president of Brazil, 
along with "her key advisers"; and Enrique Pena Nieto, then Mexico's leading presidential 
candidate (and now its president), along with "nine of his close associates" — for a "surge" of 
especially invasive surveillance. The document even features some of the intercepted text 
messages sent and received by Nieto and a "close associate": 


I (U//FOUO) S2C42 surge effort 
I (U) Goal 

I (T5//SI//REL) An increased understanding of the 

I communication methods and associated selectors of 

I Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff and her key advisers. 

™HEirTi'HaiHniijj»iLiD uu, am, * jt, iah, nn. 

(U//FOUO) S2C41 surge effort 

(T5//5I//RFI) NSA's Mexico I paderjhip Tegm (S3C4J) conducted 3 
two-week target development surge effort ggairist one of Mexico's, 
leading presidential candidates, Enrique Pena Nieto, and nine of his 
close associates. Nieto is considered by most political pundits to be 
the likely winner of the 2012 Mexican presidential elections which are 
to be held In July 2D12. SATC leveled graph analysis in the 

development su rge's ta rget deve lo pment effort. 

rap Bmjjtnw jjin.14 um. am. an. upt na 

(U) Conclusion 

3 (S//REL) Contact graph-enhanced filtering is a 
simple vet effective technique, which may 
allow you to find previously unobtainable 
results and empower analytic discovery 

3 (TS//SI//REL) Teaming with S2Q SATC was 
able to successfully apply this technique 
against high-profile, OPSEC-sawy Brazilian and 
Mexican targets. 

One can speculate about why political leaders of Brazil and Mexico were NSA targets. 
Both countries are rich in oil resources. They are a big and influential presence in the region. 
And while they are far from adversaries, they are also not America's closest and most trusted 
allies. Indeed, one NSA planning document — entitled "Identifying Challenges: Geopolitical 
Trends for 2014-2019" — list both Mexico and Brazil under the heading "Friends, Enemies, 
or Problems?" Others on that list are Egypt, India, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Sudan, 
Turkey, and Yemen. 

But ultimately, in this case as in most others, speculation about any specific target is 
based on a false premise. The NSA does not need any specific reason or rationale to invade 
people's private communications. Their institutional mission is to collect everything. 

If anything, the revelations about NSA spying on foreign leaders are less significant 
than the agency's warrantless mass surveillance of whole populations. Countries have spied 
on heads of state for centuries, including allies. This is unremarkable, despite the great outcry 
that ensued when, for example, the world discovered that the NSA had for many years 
targeted the personal cell phone of German chancellor Angela Merkel. 

More remarkable is the fact that in country after country, revelations that the NSA 
was spying on hundreds of millions of their citizens produced little more than muted 
objections from their political leadership. True indignation came gushing forward only once 
those leaders understood that they, and not just their citizens, had been targeted as well. 

Still, the sheer scale of diplomatic surveillance the NSA has practiced is unusual and 
noteworthy. In addition to foreign leaders, the United States has also, for example, spied 
extensively on international organizations such as the United Nations to gain diplomatic 
advantage. One April 2013 briefing from SSO is typical, noting how the agency used its 
programs to obtain the UN secretary general's talking points prior to his meeting with 
President Obama: 

TOP : 



(TS//SI//NF) BLARNEY Team assists 
S2C52 analysts in implementing 
Xkeyscore fingerprints that yield 
access to U.N. Secretary General 
talking points prior to meeting with 


Numerous other documents detail how Susan Rice, then ambassador to the UN and 
now President Obama' s national security adviser, repeatedly requested that the NSA spy on 
the internal discussions of key member states to learn their negotiation strategies. A May 

2010 SSO report describes this process in connection with a resolution being debated by the 

UN that involved imposing new sanctions on Iran. 

(S//SI) BLARNEY Team Provides Outstanding Support to Enable 
UN Security Council Collection 

By I NAME REDACTED on ?B10-eS-2G 1438 

(TS//SU/NF) With the UN vote on sanctions against Iran 
approaching and several countries riding the fence on 
making a decision, Ambassador Rice reached out to NSA 
requesting 5IGINT on those countries so that she could 
develop a strategy, with the requirement that this be done 
rapidly and within our legal authorities, the BLARNEY team 
jumped in to work with organizations and partners both 
internal and external to NSA. 

(TS//SI//NFJ As OGC, SV and the TGPIs aggressively worked 
through the legal paperwork to expedite four new NSA FT5A 
court orders for Gabon, Uganda, Nigeria and Bosnia, BLARNEY 
Operations Division personnel were behind the scenes 
gathering data determining what survey information was 
available or could be obtained via their long standing FBI 
contacts, As they worked to obtain information on both the 
UN Missions in NY and the Embassies in DC, the target 
development team greased the skids with appropriate data 
flow personnel and all preparations were made to ensure 
data could flow to the TOPIs as soon as possible. Several 
personnelj one fro* legal team and one from target 
development team were called in on Saturday 22 Nay to 
support the 24 hour drill legal paperwork exercise doing 
their part to ensure the orders were ready for the NSA 
Director's signature early Monday morning 24 Hay. 

With OCC and SV pushing hard to expedite these four 
orders, they went from the NSA Director for signature to 
DoD for SECDEF signature and then to DOJ for signature by 
the FISt judge in record tine- All four orders were signed 
by the judge on Wednesday 26 Kay* Once the orders were 
received by the BLARNEY legal team, they sprung :r:o action 
parsing these four orders plus another ""normal" renewal in 
one day. Parsing five court orders in one day - a BLARNEY 
record! As the BLARNEY legal team was busily parsing court 
orders the BLARNEY access management team was working with 
the FBI to pass tasking information and coordinate the 
engagement with telecommunications partners. 

A similar surveillance document from August 2010 reveals that the United States 
spied on eight members of the UN Security Council regarding a subsequent resolution about 
sanctions on Iran. The list included France, Brazil, Japan, and Mexico — all considered 
friendly nations. The espionage gave the US government valuable information about those 
countries' voting intentions, giving Washington an edge when talking to other members of 
the Security Council. 


Aii^usi 201 e 

(LV/FOUO) Siltnt Sin™: SIC I NT Syi^rjij El dps Shapv L S 

Pontigs Polity 

(TS//SJ//NF) At Use cxtbet of these lengthy nejpjliatioiis. KSA hid sustained collection ajpinst 


Jspan. Mexico, Brail] 

(TS//SL//FJ Kl.) In Ijtt rsjwlnfl 2^1(1. richer* hranchc-L arrcksfl inc Pmdurl l.inrs Irnmcd with .MSfl 
rnahlrnt La ;i rnvidL L th U itmkJI au m?nt jnd accural? inrDrjnuljnn til and □thurcuKEcimcrami Iw-w 

ITH9C members would voce on Hie Iran Sancboits aesslulioii. Noting that. Jia n continued lu non- 
compliance with previous UNSrj resolution!; conctmtrLg it-s- n Liclear prog ram, inc UN tmpoud further 

junction,: rcn 9 Jujic 20 ] 0. SMCINT was lecy in liccpinfl IJSU N in farmed bF how Ihc othur rn*m btrs <rf 
U Ff St WOUld™*. 

(Ti//SI//BEL) The rtmrfutloq wjs Mtgpmt twelve vott! for. two jjjmst [(jrjnl and Tvrtcr). said 

ur-.L ahMKiUlon lmni Lebanon. According, lei USUN, MCI NT 'JicI^hI jnu In know when live oLhtr tarijn 
|Pf rmarf nt R^tnrH-m-jUvKl wrrr (rlllnj thr mith... rriralrd their rrjt n™Mnn nn sanctions, (raw os 
oji upper hand in m^gnuj.bDr_i.. jnd provided LnrnrmiitinmiiivarwMji countries 'red linti." 

To facilitate diplomatic spying, the NSA has gained various forms of access to the 
embassies and consulates of many of its closest allies. One 2010 document — shown here 
with some countries deleted — lists the nations whose diplomatic structures inside the United 
States were invaded by the agency. A glossary at the end explains the various types of 
surveillance used. 

10 5rp 3O10 



All Clnw A(M« dpfnettn toll-ettion usti the LJ5-3U5 5IGAD with 0 unique 
(wo-letter suffix for each target location and mission. Clcse Access overseas. 
GENIE collect ion has been aligned the US-J1 37 SlGAD with a twolerter suf- 


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in the n M r future. PI M! r tiwtlr with TAOfflTDmOS {9S1-IS78i) regarding authnrilirji 

5I&AD US 3136 


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general term descriptions 

highlands Colleton from Irnp-iinrs, 
VAGRANT: Collet; ion n1 Compul<;r Stretni 
MAGNETIC; Sc-nSOr Ccllrxtion of M,i9rie(i( Emanations 
MINERALIZE: Coilcttion Irtyn LAN Implant; 

OCEAN; Optical Collecl»on System for Rasler-Etased Computer S<reeni 

LlfESAVER: imag-ig o! the Hard Drive 

GEMlE: M'jr|i rt»5* operation; jumping th*»irgap«tc 

BLACKHEART: Cdlttlion horn an FBI Impljnl 

PBX- Publit Brirwh Furin-ige Sw 1< h 

CRYPTO ENABLED Co lemon derived Irom AO't efforts to enabF* crypto 
DROPMIRE fjA-Hjy* is'lMiw of emanations irsing m antenna. 
CUSTOMS Cbtlo«noD|»(1unili«(notLirESAVIR) 

DROPMtRE UW» ponlf <*H«t»srl. purely proximal ttitH ("NOT" implanied] 
DEWSrVElP£« LFia LUn.^wl Serial flus) hoil tup trit p-ov.dei COVERT 
link owi USB (if* mlo j tjigr-r nrtwori Optv w/FF rrijy ujbvjMrm 10 pro 
vtd*wir«t«i Bridge into target network. 
RADON ffi-directrorial host tap that tan inject Ethernet packets onto the same tar- 
get Allo-A-s bi-di'«t'Cfl8leKplo<tati<fnof Denied netwrjrt-tvirng standard rjn-net 


Some of the NSA's methods serve all agendas — economic, diplomatic, security, and 
obtaining an all-purpose global advantage — and these are among the most invasive, and 
hypocritical, in the agency's repertoire. For years, the US government loudly warned the 

world that Chinese routers and other Internet devices pose a "threat" because they are built 
with backdoor surveillance functionality that gives the Chinese government the ability to spy 
on anyone using them. Yet what the NSA's documents show is that Americans have been 
engaged in precisely the activity that the United States accused the Chinese of doing. 

The drumbeat of American accusations against Chinese Internet device 
manufacturers was unrelenting. In 2012, for example, a report from the House Intelligence 
Committee, headed by Mike Rogers, claimed that Huawei and ZTE, the top two Chinese 
telecommunications equipment companies, "may be violating United States laws" and have 
"not followed United States legal obligations or international standards of business 
behavior." The committee recommended that "the United States should view with suspicion 
the continued penetration of the U.S. telecommunications market by Chinese 
telecommunications companies." 

The Rogers committee voiced fears that the two companies were enabling Chinese 
state surveillance, although it acknowledged that it had obtained no actual evidence that the 
firms had implanted their routers and other systems with surveillance devices. Nonetheless, it 
cited the failure of those companies to cooperate and urged US firms to avoid purchasing 
their products: 

Private-sector entities in the United States are strongly encouraged to consider the long-term 
security risks associated with doing business with either ZTE or Huawei for equipment or 
services. U.S. network providers and systems developers are strongly encouraged to seek 
other vendors for their projects. Based on available classified and unclassified information, 
Huawei and ZTE cannot be trusted to be free of foreign state influence and thus pose a 
security threat to the United States and to our systems. The constant accusations 
became such a burden that Ren Zhengfei, the sixty-nine-year-old founder and CEO of 
Huawei, announced in November 2013 that the company was abandoning the US market. As 
Foreign Policy reported, Zhengfei told a French newspaper: '"If Huawei gets in the middle 
of U.S-China relations,' and causes problems, 'it's not worth it.'" 

But while American companies were being warned away from supposedly 
untrustworthy Chinese routers, foreign organizations would have been well advised to 
beware of American-made ones. A June 2010 report from the head of the NSA's Access and 
Target Development department is shockingly explicit. The NSA routinely receives — or 
intercepts — routers, servers, and other computer network devices being exported from the 
United States before they are delivered to the international customers. The agency then 
implants backdoor surveillance tools, repackages the devices with a factory seal, and sends 
them on. The NSA thus gains access to entire networks and all their users. The document 
gleefully observes that some "SIGINT tradecraft ... is very hands-on (literally!)": 


(U) Stealthy Techtiitiues Can Crack Some of SIGINTs 
Hardest Targets 

By: (WFOL'OtE 

, Chief, Attesi and Turpi D*veluj>ioenL (S^l ) 

(TStfSlWF) Not all SIUINT (radeerafl involves accessing signals and 
networks I'mm thousands of miles away, . In fret, wmdimcs il is vqiy 
hands-on f literally ! >. Here's hiw ii works: shipment of compuwf network 
devices {servers, routers, etc,) being delivered lo our targets throughout the world are 
inltrcepftrt. Next, they arc rrdtreCteit to a WW location where ' la i lured AcOCSS 
Qperaiions/Aectss Opefiuiims [AO ■ employees, with the support of" the Ftc-moie 
Operations Center (S32 1 V enable the imtaliutioti t>f beacon tmpttintx directly into our 
targets' electronic devices, These devices axe then re*rtaclifl..Bcd and placed hact into 

transit to the original destination. All of this happens, with Lhe Support of Intelligence 

Community partner!! and the technical wizards in TAO. 

MS S| NT) Such oblations involving Mtppti-rhnin interdiction are some of the most 
productive operations to TAO, because they pre-positkni access points into hard target 
networks around the world. 

(TaV/SIWNF) Lift: loiereepled packages aft: oooned carefully; Right: A "load static" 

implants a beacon 

Eventually, the implanted device connects back to the NSA infrastructure: 

ils SI Ni-j > fa t'n: ease. &\Wf several mnnthi :i beacon impli-nliM dmmv.h v.ippi\- 
chsin interdiction culled buck to the NSA coven infrastructure. This call bitck provided 
lib iicccvi to further exploit the device ant! \urve\ the ncLwink 

Among other devices, the agency intercepts and tampers with routers and servers 
manufactured by Cisco to direct large amounts of Internet traffic back to the NSA's 
repositories. (There is no evidence in the documents that Cisco is aware of, or condoned, 
these interceptions.) In April 2013, the agency grappled with technical difficulties involving 
the intercepted Cisco network switches, which affected the BLARNEY, FAIRVIEW, 
OAKSTAR, and STORMBREW programs: 


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Biarwy f **r»/t DahslBr Stammnw 

It is quite possible that Chinese firms are implanting surveillance mechanisms in their 
network devices. But the United States is certainly doing the same. 

Warning the world about Chinese surveillance could have been one of the motives 
behind the US government's claims that Chinese devices cannot be trusted. But an equally 
important motive seems to have been preventing Chinese devices from supplanting 
American-made ones, which would have limited the NSA's own reach. In other words, 
Chinese routers and servers represent not only economic competition but also surveillance 
competition: when someone buys a Chinese device instead of an American one, the NSA 

loses a crucial means of spying on a great many communication activities. 

* * * 

If the quantity of collection revealed was already stupefying, the NSA's mission to 
collect all the signals all the time has driven the agency to expand and conquer more and 
more ground. The amount of data it captures is so vast, in fact, that the principal challenge the 
agency complains about is storing the heaps of information accumulated from around the 
globe. One NSA document, prepared for the Five Eyes SigDev Conference, set forth this 
central problem: 

The Challenge 

Collection is outpacing our ability to ingest, process and 
store to the "norms" to which we have beeome 

The story goes back to 2006, when the agency embarked on what it called "Large 
Scale Expansion of NS A Metadata Sharing." At that point, the NS A predicted that its 
metadata collection would grow by six hundred billion records every year, growth that would 
include one to two billion new telephone call events collected every single day: 

1 1CiuS«_(Wt,vX1»im 

Large Scale Expansion of NSA Metadata Sharing 

(S'i'Sl.'.'REL) Increases NSA communications metadata sharing 
from 50 billion records to S50+ billion records {grows by 1-2 billion 
records per day) 

n Profiled DNI 
■ ONI 

B Projected PSTN 

By May 2007, the expansion had evidently borne fruit: the amount of telephone 
metadata the agency was storing — independent of email and other Internet data, and 
excluding data the NSA had deleted due to lack of storage space — had increased to 150 
billion records: 


(S//NF) Call Events in PROTON* 

•Total Call Event* In MSA PROTON' est MS Sill ion 
Of those: 

■ Total Call Events NorvNSA 

est 1D1 Billion 

-Total Call Events Uon-NSA, 

est. 92, TOD 

[ hi-.Tdi I ririi. Wi IfumUi 

* For At* r*eig* SOW-SOW, M ef ttety July J006; H«t 

Once Internet-based communications were added to the mix, the total number of 
communication events stored was close to 1 trillion (this data, it should be noted, was then 
shared by the NSA with other agencies). 

To address its storage problem, the NSA began building a massive new facility in 
Bluffdale, Utah, that has as one of its primary purposes the retention of all that data. As 
reporter James Bamford noted in 2012, the Bluffdale construction will expand the agency's 
capacity by adding "four 25,000-square-foot halls filled with servers, complete with raised 
floor space for cables and storage. In addition, there will be more than 900,000 square feet for 
technical support and administration." Considering the size of the building and the fact that, 
as Bamford says, "a terabyte of data can now be stored on a flash drive the size of a man's 
pinky," the implications for data collection are profound. 

The need for ever-larger facilities is particularly pressing given the agency' s current 
invasions into global online activity, which extend far beyond the collection of metadata to 
include the actual content of emails, Web browsing, search histories, and chats. The key 
program used by the NSA to collect, curate, and search such data, introduced in 2007, is 
X-KEYSCORE, and it affords a radical leap in the scope of the agency's surveillance powers. 
The NSA calls X-KEYSCORE its "widest-reaching" system for collecting electronic data, 
and with good reason. 

A training document prepared for analysts claims the program captures "nearly 
everything a typical user does on the internet," including the text of emails, Google searches, 
and the names of websites visited. X-KEYSCORE even allows "real-time" monitoring of a 
person's online activities, enabling the NSA to observe emails and browsing activities as 
they happen. 

Beyond collecting comprehensive data about the online activities of hundreds of 
millions of people, X-KEYSCORE allows any NSA analyst to search the system's databases 
by email address, telephone number, or identifying attributes such as an IP address. The 
range of information available and the basic means an analyst uses to search it are illustrated 
in this slide: 

TO* SKHI/)a>a:V(AIL TO lAt US. OH. SM, KB. 

What XKS does with the Sess 


Another X-KEYSCORE slide lists the various fields of information that can be 
searched via the program's "plug-ins." Those include "every email address seen in a 
session," "every phone number seen in a session" (including "address book entries"), and 
"the webmail and chat activity": 






E-mail Addresses 

Indexes every E-mail address seen ir> a session by 
twth uMmame and domain 

1 j 

Full Log Indexes every DNI session collected. Data is 
indexed lay the Standard N-tuppla (IP, Port, 
Gasenotation etc) 

HTTP Pa rser 

Indexes the client- side HTTP traffic (examples to 

Phone Number 

Indexes every phone number seen In a session [e.g. 
address book entries or signature block) 

User Activity 

indexes the Webmail and Chat activity to Include 
user-name, butfdyldst, machine specific c^Mjkies etc. 



The program also offers the ability to search and retrieve embedded documents and 
images that were created, sent, or received: 

3WOTTH7WMh.SE L TO u«, AwE-. CAN, SES *™ hrurt Wl 1 t?) A 

f advanced Plug-ins luTjjflfc" 

Plug- In 



Indexes the Webmail and Chat activity to include 
usemame, OuddyiisE, machine specific cookies etc. 
(AppPrac does the exploitation) 

DocumenE meta- 

Extracts embedded properties of Microsoft Off ce 
and Adohe PDF files, such as Author, Organization, 

The searches enabled by the program are so specific that any NSA analyst is able not 
only to find out which websites a person has visited but also to assemble a comprehensive list 
of all visits to a particular website from specified computers: 

* While we can just put the IP address 
and the "host" into the search form, 
remember what we saw before about 
the various host names for a given 

Most remarkable is the ease with which analysts can search for whatever they want 
with no oversight. An analyst with access to X-KEYSCORE need not submit a request to a 
supervisor or any other authority. Instead, the analyst simply fills out a basic form to "justify" 
the surveillance, and the system returns the information requested. 

TOP lEtHFLVCOtimWIEL 113 IWL *U», CjW, Bflfl, HZL 

Creating Email Address Queries 

In the first video interview he gave when in Hong Kong, Edward Snowden made an 
audacious claim: "I, sitting at my desk, could wiretap anyone, from you or your accountant, 
to a federal judge or even the president, if I had a personal email." US officials vehemently 
denied that this was true. Mike Rogers expressly accused Snowden of "lying," adding, "It's 
impossible for him to do what he was saying he could do." But X-KEYSCORE permits an 
analyst to do exactly what Snowden said: target any user for comprehensive monitoring, 
which includes reading the content of their emails. Indeed, the program lets an analyst search 
for all emails that include targeted users in the "cc" line or mention of them in the body of the 

The NSA's own instructions for searching through emails demonstrate just how 
simple and easy it is for analysts to monitor anyone whose address they know: 


Entaif Addresses Query: 

One of the most common queries is (you guessed it) an Kmait Address Qu?ry searching 
Tor an email address. To create a query for a specific email address, you have to fill in the 
name of the query, juslify it and set a dale range (hen you simply lill in the email 
address(es) you want to search on and submit 

That would look something like this... 

! I 

Scjrtti; Eniill Addresses 

Qus^uamc abuiiliad 

JuitifimtKin; C«l9jqe1.f.netnc» 

Mirard; Nuiriflr: 

DaceMne: < MoiKO *' Mart: 2DQ8-12-M 00:00 

One of X-KEYSCORE's most valuable functions to the NSA is its ability to surveil 
the activities on online social networks (OSNs), such as Facebook and Twitter, which the 
agency believes provide a wealth of information and "insight into the personal lives of 

The methods for searching social media activity are every bit as simple as the email 
search. An analyst enters the desired user name on, say, Facebook, along with the date range 
of activity, and X-KEYSCORE then returns all of that user's information, including 
messages, chats, and other private postings. 


Perhaps the most remarkable fact about X-KEYSCORE is the sheer quantity of data 
that it captures and stores at multiple collection sites around the world. "At some sites," one 
report states, "the amount of data we receive per day (20+ terabytes) can only be stored for as 
little as 24 hours based on available resources." For one thirty-day period beginning in 
December 2012, the quantity of records collected by X-KEYSCORE just for one unit, the 
SSO, exceeded forty-one billion: 

X-KEYSCORE "stores the full-take content for 3-5 days, effectively 'slowing down 
the internet,'" — meaning that "analysts can go back and recover sessions." Then "content 
that is 'interesting' can be pulled out of X-KEYSCORE and pushed to Agility or 
PENWALE," storage databases that provide longer retention. 

X-KEYSCORE's ability to access Facebook and other social media sites is boosted 

by other programs, which include BLARNEY, allowing the NSA to monitor a "broad range 

of Facebook data via surveillance and search activities": 

(T5//si//nf> blarney Exploit* trie Social Network vis 
Expanded Facebook Collection 

By f nwi n*™ J on 2011-03-14 6737 

m/rtI//NFt SSO HIGHLIGHT - BLARNEY Exploits the Social 
Network via Expanded ratebook Collection 

(TV/SIZ/NF* On 11 Mjrif- 2011 . BLARNEY bfrflan delivery of 
substantially improved ana more complete Facebook contents 
This is a major leap forward in NSA' 5 ability to exploit 
Facebook using FISA and FAA authorities. This effort was 
initiated in partnership with the FBI six months ago to 
address ao unreliable and incomplete Facebook collection 
system. NSA is now able to access a broad range of Facebook 
data via surveillance and search activities. OPls are 
excited about receiving many content fields, such as chat, 
on a sustained basis that had previously only been 
occasionally available. Suae content will be completely new 
including subscriber videos. Taken together, the new 
Facebook collection will provide a robust 5IGINT 
opportunity against our targets - from geolocation based on 
their IP addresses and user agent, to collection of all of 
their private nessages and profile information. Multiple 
eleaents across NSA partnered to ensure the successful 
delivery of this data. An nsa representative at fbi 
coordinated the rapid development of the collection system; 
SSO's PRlNTAURA tea* wrote new software and made 
configuration changes; CES modified their protocol 
exploitation systeas and the Technology Directorate fast- 
tracked upgrades to their data presentation tools so that 
OPIs could view the data properly. 

In the UK, meanwhile, the GCHQ's Global Telecommunications Exploitation (GTE) 
division has also devoted substantial resources to the task, detailed in a 201 1 presentation to 
the annual Five Eyes conference. 


^ em* 

Exploiting Facebook traffic in the 
passive environment to obtain 
specific Information 

iwaecnETjrauna. fvct 


Why OSNs? 

• Targets increasing usage of Facebook, 
BEBO, My Space etc. 

• A very rich source of information on targets: 

■ Personal d^iis 

■ 'Pattern gf Life' 

■ Connections tg associates 
• Media 

The GCHQ has paid special attention to weaknesses in Facebook' s security system 
and to obtaining the kind of data that Facebook users attempt to shield: 


Looking to the Passive 

* Many targets on Facebook fock down 
their profiles, so it is not possible to view 
all of their information... 

But passive offers the opportunity to 
collect this information by exploiting 
inherent weaknesses in Facebook's 
security model. 


In particular, the GCHQ has found vulnerabilities in the network's system for storing 
pictures, which can be used to gain access to Facebook IDs and album images: 


Facebook's use of 
the Akamai CDISI 



top cflErranwa. p/ex 

Exploiting the FB CDN ""^ 

* Weaknesses 

■ Assumed Authentication 
* Security through obscurity 

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Beyond social media networks, the NSA and the GCHQ continue to look for any gaps 
in their surveillance net, any communications that remain outside their grasp, and then 
develop ways to bring them under the agencies' watchful eye. One seemingly obscure 
program demonstrates this point. 

Both the NSA and GCHQ have been consumed by their perceived need to monitor 
Internet and phone communications of people on commercial airline flights. Because these 
are rerouted via independent satellite systems, they are extremely difficult to pinpoint. The 
idea that there is a moment when someone can use the Internet or their phone without 
detection — even for just a few hours while flying — is intolerable to the surveillance agencies. 
In response, they have devoted substantial resources to developing systems that will intercept 
in-flight communications. 

At the 2012 Five Eyes conference, the GCHQ presented an interception program 
named Thieving Magpie, targeting the increasingly available use of cell phones during 


Using on-board GSM/GPRS services to 
track targets 

- On board GSM 


•Many airlines arc offering on-board mobile 
phone services, particularly for long haul and 
business class (list is growing) 
*At least British Airways are restricting the 
service to data and SMS only - no voice 

TOP-m'Arr.ojuiKi t;hl to usa. r\Tt sihapi 


The proposed solution envisioned a system to ensure complete "global coverage' 

'Global coverage via SOUTHWINDS is 
planned in the next year 

^ TWSKS^'<Cy*H!WTl.W;LT(>L:S* 4 fT'TrF™Ari 

Substantial headway has been made to ensure that certain devices are susceptible to 
surveillance on passenger jets: 

'Currently able to produce events for at least 

Blackberry phones in flight 

■Able to identify Blackberry PJN and 

associated Email addresses 

'Tasked content into datastores, unsolected lo 

Xkeyscore, further details of usage available 


Travel Tracking — 

*Wt can confirm that targets selectors arc on board 
specific flights in near real time, enabling 
surveillance or arrest teams to be put in place in 

•If they use data, we can also recover email 
address's, Faccbook Ids, Skypc addresses etc 
♦Specific aircraft can be tracked approximately every 
2 minutes whilst in flight 

A related NSA document presented at the same conference, for a program entitled 
Homing Pigeon, also describes efforts to monitor in-air communications. The agency's 
program was to be coordinated with the GCHQ, and the entire system made available to the 
Five Eyes group. 


□{S//SI//REL FVEY) Analytic Question 

Given a GSM handset detected on a known 
aircraft flight, what is the likely identity (or 
identities) of the handset subscriber (and vice- 

□[T5//S1//REL FVEY) Proposed Process 

Auto correlation of GSM handsets to subscribers 
observed on two or more flights, 


J (TS//SI//REL FVEY) SATC will complete development 
once a reliable THIEVING MAGPIE data feed has been 

J (TS//SI//REL FVEY) Once the QFD is complete, it will 
be available to FVEY users as a RESTful web service, 
JEM A component, and a light weight web page 

J (TS//Siy/REL FVEY) If the S2 QFD Review Panel elects 
to ask for HQ MIMG PIGEON to be made persistent, 
its natural home would be incorporation into 

* * * 

There is remarkable candidness, within parts of the NSA, about the true purpose of 
building so massive a secret surveillance system. A PowerPoint presentation prepared for a 
group of agency officials discussing the prospect of international Internet standards gives the 
unvarnished view. The author of the presentation is an "NSA/SIGINT National Intelligence 
Officer (SINIO) for Science and Technology," a self-described "well trained scientist and 

The blunt title of his presentation: "The Role of National Interests, Money, and 
Egos." These three factors together, he says, are the primary motives driving the United 
States to maintain global surveillance domination. 

Oh Yeah,,, 

■ Put Money, National interest, and 
Ego together, and now you' re talking 
about shaping the world writ large. 

What country doesn 't want to make 
the world a better place... for 


He notes that US dominance over the Internet has given the country substantial power 
and influence, and has also generated vast profit: 


What's the Threat? 

■ Let' s be blunt - the Western World 
(especially the US) gained influence and 
made a lot of money via the drafting of 
earlier standards. 

The US was ihe major player in shaping 

loday's internet. This resulted in pervasive 

exportation of American culture as well as 

technology. It alsa resulted in a lot of money 

being made by US entities. 

Such profit and power have also inevitably accrued, of course, to the surveillance 
industry itself, providing another motive for its endless expansion. The post-9/1 1 era has seen 
a massive explosion of resources dedicated to surveillance. Most of those resources were 
transferred from the public coffers (i.e., the American taxpayer) into the pockets of private 
surveillance defense corporations. 

Companies like Booz Allen Hamilton and AT&T employ hordes of former top 
government officials, while hordes of current top defense officials are past (and likely future) 
employees of those same corporations. Constantly growing the surveillance state is a way to 
ensure that the government funds keep flowing, that the revolving door stays greased. That is 
also the best way to ensure that the NSA and its related agencies retain institutional 
importance and influence inside Washington. 

As the scale and ambition of the surveillance industry has grown, so has the profile of 
its perceived adversary. Listing the various threats supposedly facing the United States, the 
NSA — in a document entitled "National Security Agency: Overview Briefing" — includes 
some predictable items: "hackers," "criminal elements," and "terrorists." Revealingly, 
though, it also goes far broader by including among the threats a list of technologies, 
including the Internet itself: 





| Pagers 



i loping 




The Internet has long been heralded as an unprecedented instrument of 
democratization and liberalization, even emancipation. But in the eyes of the US government, 
this global network and other types of communications technology threaten to undermine 
American power. Viewed from this perspective, the NSA's ambition to "collect it all" at last 
becomes coherent. It is vital that the NSA monitor all parts of the Internet and any other 
means of communication, so that none can escape US government control. 

Ultimately, beyond diplomatic manipulation and economic gain, a system of 
ubiquitous spying allows the United States to maintain its grip on the world. When the United 
States is able to know everything that everyone is doing, saying, thinking, and planning — its 
own citizens, foreign populations, international corporations, other government leaders — its 
power over those factions is maximized. That's doubly true if the government operates at 
ever greater levels of secrecy. The secrecy creates a one-way mirror: the US government sees 
what everyone else in the world does, including its own population, while no one sees its own 
actions. It is the ultimate imbalance, permitting the most dangerous of all human conditions: 
the exercise of limitless power with no transparency or accountability. 

Edward Snowden's revelations subverted that dangerous dynamic by shining a light 
on the system and how it functions. For the first time, people everywhere were able to learn 
the true extent of the surveillance capabilities amassed against them. The news triggered an 
intense, sustained worldwide debate precisely because the surveillance poses such a grave 
threat to democratic governance. It also triggered proposals for reform, a global discussion of 
the importance of Internet freedom and privacy in the electronic age, and a reckoning with 
the vital question: What does limitless surveillance mean for us as individuals, in our own 


Governments around the world have made vigorous attempts to train citizens to 
disdain their own privacy. A litany of now-familiar platitudes has convinced people to 
tolerate severe encroachments into their private realm; so successful are these justifications 
that many people applaud as the authorities collect vast amounts of data about what they say, 

read, buy, and do — and with whom. 

Those state authorities have been assisted in their assault on privacy by a chorus of 
Internet moguls — the government's seemingly indispensable partners in surveillance. When 
Google CEO Eric Schmidt was asked in a 2009 CNBC interview about concerns over his 
company's retention of user data, he infamously replied: "If you have something that you 
don't want anyone to know, maybe you shouldn't be doing it in the first place." With equal 
dismissiveness, Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg said in a 2010 interview that 
"people have really gotten comfortable not only sharing more information and different 
kinds, but more openly and with more people." Privacy in the digital age is no longer a 
"social norm," he claimed, a notion that handily serves the interests of a tech company 
trading on personal information. 

But the importance of privacy is evident in the fact that even those who devalue it, 
who have declared it dead or dispensable, do not believe the things they say. Anti-privacy 
advocates have often gone to great lengths to maintain control over the visibility of their own 
behavior and information. The US government itself has used extreme measures to shield its 
actions from public view, erecting an ever-higher wall of secrecy behind which it operates. 
As a 201 1 report from the ACLU argued, "Today much of our government's business is 
conducted in secret." So secretive is this shadowy world, "so large, so unwieldy," as the 
Washington Post reported, that no one knows how much money it costs, how many people it 
employs, how many programs exist within it or exactly how many agencies do the same 

Similarly, those Internet tycoons who are apparently so willing to devalue our privacy 
are vehemently protective of their own. Google insisted on a policy of not talking to reporters 
from CNET, the technology news site, after CNET published Eric Schmidt's personal 
details — including his salary, campaign donations, and address, all public information 
obtained via Google — in order to highlight the invasive dangers of his company. 

Meanwhile, Mark Zuckerberg purchased the four homes adjacent to his own in Palo 
Alto, at a cost of $30 million, to ensure his privacy. As CNET put it, "Your personal life is 
now known as Facebook' s data. Its CEO's personal life is now known as mind your own 

The same contradiction is expressed by the many ordinary citizens who dismiss the 
value of privacy yet nonetheless have passwords on their email and social media accounts. 
They put locks on their bathroom doors; they seal the envelopes containing their letters. They 
engage in conduct when nobody is watching that they would never consider when acting in 
full view. They say things to friends, psychologists, and lawyers that they do not want anyone 
else to know. They give voice to thoughts online that they do not want associated with their 

The many pro-surveillance advocates I have debated since Snowden blew the whistle 
have been quick to echo Eric Schmidt's view that privacy is for people who have something 
to hide. But none of them would willingly give me the passwords to their email accounts, or 
allow video cameras in their homes. 

When the Senate Intelligence Committee's chair, Dianne Feinstein, insisted that the 
NSA's collection of metadata does not constitute surveillance — because it does not include 
the content of any communication — online protesters demanded that she back up her 
assertion with action: Would the senator, each month, publish a full list of people she emailed 
and called, including the length of time they spoke and their physical locations when the call 
was made? That she would take up the offer was inconceivable precisely because such 

information is profoundly revealing; making it public would constitute a true breach of one's 
private realm. 

The point is not the hypocrisy of those who disparage the value of privacy while 
intensely safeguarding their own, although that is striking. It is that the desire for privacy is 
shared by us all as an essential, not ancillary, part of what it means to be human. We all 
instinctively understand that the private realm is where we can act, think, speak, write, 
experiment, and choose how to be, away from the judgmental eyes of others. Privacy is a 
core condition of being a free person. 

Perhaps the most famous formulation of what privacy means and why it is so 
universally and supremely desired was offered by US Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis 
in the 1928 case Olmstead v. U.S.: "The right to be left alone [is] the most comprehensive of 
rights, and the right most valued by a free people." The value of privacy, he wrote, "is much 
broader in scope" than mere civic freedoms. It is, he said, fundamental: 
The makers of our Constitution undertook to secure conditions favorable to the pursuit of 
happiness. They recognized the significance of man's spiritual nature, of his feelings and of 
his intellect. They knew that only a part of the pain, pleasure and satisfactions of life are to be 
found in material things. They sought to protect Americans in their beliefs, their thoughts, 
their emotions and their sensations. They conferred, as against the Government, the right to 
be let alone. Even before Brandeis was appointed to the Court, he was an ardent proponent 
of the importance of privacy. Together with lawyer Samuel Warren, he wrote the seminal 
1890 Harvard Law Review article "The Right to Privacy," arguing that robbing someone of 
their privacy was a crime of a deeply different nature than the theft of a material belonging. 
"The principle which protects personal writings and all other personal productions, not 
against theft and physical appropriation, but against publication in any form, is in reality not 
the principle of private property, but that of an inviolate personality." 

Privacy is essential to human freedom and happiness for reasons that are rarely 
discussed but instinctively understood by most people, as evidenced by the lengths to which 
they go to protect their own. To begin with, people radically change their behavior when they 
know they are being watched. They will strive to do that which is expected of them. They 
want to avoid shame and condemnation. They do so by adhering tightly to accepted social 
practices, by staying within imposed boundaries, avoiding action that might be seen as 
deviant or abnormal. 

The range of choices people consider when they believe that others are watching is 
therefore far more limited than what they might do when acting in a private realm. A denial 
of privacy operates to severely restrict one's freedom of choice. 

Several years ago, I attended the bat mitzvah of my best friend's daughter. During the 
ceremony, the rabbi emphasized that "the central lesson" for the girl to learn was that she was 
"always being watched and judged." He told her that God always knew what she was doing, 
every choice, every action, and even every thought, no matter how private. "You are never 
alone," he said, which meant that she should always adhere to God's will. 

The rabbi's point was clear: if you can never evade the watchful eyes of a supreme 
authority, there is no choice but to follow the dictates that authority imposes. You cannot 
even consider forging your own path beyond those rules: if you believe you are always being 
watched and judged, you are not really a free individual. 

All oppressive authorities — political, religious, societal, parental — rely on this vital 
truth, using it as a principal tool to enforce orthodoxies, compel adherence, and quash dissent. 
It is in their interest to convey that nothing their subjects do will escape the knowledge of the 

authorities. Far more effectively than a police force, the deprivation of privacy will crush any 
temptation to deviate from rules and norms. 

What is lost when the private realm is abolished are many of the attributes typically 
associated with quality of life. Most people have experienced how privacy enables liberation 
from constraint. And we've all, conversely, had the experience of engaging in private 
behavior when we thought we were alone — dancing, confessing, exploring sexual expression, 
sharing untested ideas — only to feel shame at having been seen by others. 

Only when we believe that nobody else is watching us do we feel free — safe — to truly 
experiment, to test boundaries, to explore new ways of thinking and being, to explore what it 
means to be ourselves. What made the Internet so appealing was precisely that it afforded the 
ability to speak and act anonymously, which is so vital to individual exploration. 

For that reason, it is in the realm of privacy where creativity, dissent, and challenges 
to orthodoxy germinate. A society in which everyone knows they can be watched by the 
state — where the private realm is effectively eliminated — is one in which those attributes are 
lost, at both the societal and the individual level. 

Mass surveillance by the state is therefore inherently repressive, even in the unlikely 
case that it is not abused by vindictive officials to do things like gain private information 
about political opponents. Regardless of how surveillance is used or abused, the limits it 

imposes on freedom are intrinsic to its existence. 

* * * 

Invoking George Orwell's 1984 is something of a cliche, but the echoes of the world 
about which he warned in the NSA's surveillance state are unmistakable: both rely on the 
existence of a technological system with the capacity to monitor every citizen's actions and 
words. The similarity is denied by the surveillance champions — we're not always being 
watched, they say — but that argument misses the point. In 1984, citizens were not necessarily 
monitored at all times; in fact, they had no idea whether they were ever actually being 
monitored. But the state had the capability to watch them at any time. It was the uncertainty 
and possibility of ubiquitous surveillance that served to keep everyone in line: 
The telescreen received and transmitted simultaneously. Any sound that Winston made, 
above the level of a very low whisper, would be picked up by it; moreover, so long as he 
remained within the field of vision which the metal plaque commanded, he could be seen as 
well as heard. There was of course no way of knowing whether you were being watched at 
any given moment. How often, or on what system, the Thought Police plugged in on any 
individual wire was guesswork. It was even conceivable that they watched everybody all the 
time. But at any rate they could plug in your wire whenever they wanted to. You had to 
live — did live, from habit that became instinct — in the assumption that every sound you 
made was overheard, and, except in darkness, every movement scrutinized. Even the 

NSA, with its capacity, could not read every email, listen to every telephone call, and track 
the actions of each individual. What makes a surveillance system effective in controlling 
human behavior is the knowledge that one's words and actions are susceptible to monitoring. 

This principle was at the heart of British philosopher Jeremy Bentham's 
eighteenth-century conception of the Panopticon, a building design he believed would allow 
institutions to effectively control human behavior. The building's structure was to be used, in 
his words, for "any sort of establishment, in which persons of any description are to be kept 
under inspection." The Panopticon's primary architectural innovation was a large central 
tower from which every room — or cell, or classroom, or ward — could be monitored at any 

time by guards. The inhabitants, however, were not able to see into the tower and so could 
never know whether they were or were not being watched. 

Since the institution — any institution — was not capable of observing all of the people 
all of the time, Bentham's solution was to create "the apparent omnipresence of the 
inspector" in the minds of the inhabitants. "The persons to be inspected should always feel 
themselves as if under inspection, at least as standing a great chance of being so." They 
would thus act as if they were always being watched, even if they weren't. The result would 
be compliance, obedience, and conformity with expectations. Bentham envisioned that his 
creation would spread far beyond prisons and mental hospitals to all societal institutions. 
Inculcating in the minds of citizens that they might always be monitored would, he 
understood, revolutionize human behavior. 

In the 1970s, Michel Foucault observed that the principle of Bentham's Panopticon 
was one of the foundational mechanisms of the modern state. In Power, he wrote that 
Panopticonism is "a type of power that is applied to individuals in the form of continuous 
individual supervision, in the form of control, punishment, and compensation, and in the 
form of correction, that is, the moulding and transformation of individuals in terms of certain 

In Discipline and Punish, Foucault further explained that ubiquitous surveillance not 
only empowers authorities and compels compliance but also induces individuals to 
internalize their watchers. Those who believe they are watched will instinctively choose to 
do that which is wanted of them without even realizing that they are being controlled — the 
Panopticon induces "in the inmate a state of conscious and permanent visibility that assures 
the automatic functioning of power." With the control internalized, the overt evidence of 
repression disappears because it is no longer necessary: "the external power may throw off its 
physical weight; it tends to be non-corporal; and, the more it approaches this limit, the more 
constant, profound and permanent are its effects: it is a profound victory that avoids any 
physical confrontation and which is always decided in advance." 

Additionally, this model of control has the great advantage of simultaneously 
creating the illusion of freedom. The compulsion to obedience exists in the individual's mind. 
Individuals choose on their own to comply, out of fear that they are being watched. That 
eliminates the need for all the visible hallmarks of compulsion, and thus enables control over 
people who falsely believe themselves to be free. 

For this reason, every oppressive state views mass surveillance as one of its most 
critical instruments of control. When the normally restrained German chancellor Angela 
Merkel learned that the NSA had spent years eavesdropping on her personal cell phone, she 
spoke to President Obama and angrily likened US surveillance to the Stasi, the notorious 
security service of East Germany, where she grew up. Merkel did not mean that the United 
States was the equivalent of the Communist regime; rather that the essence of a menacing 
surveillance state, be it the NSA or the Stasi or Big Brother or the Panopticon, is the 

knowledge that one can be watched at any time by unseen authorities. 

* * * 

It is not hard to understand why authorities in the United States and other Western 
nations have been tempted to construct a ubiquitous system of spying directed at their own 
citizens. Worsening economic inequality, converted into a full-blown crisis by the financial 
collapse in 2008, has generated grave internal instability. There has been visible unrest even 
in relatively stable democracies, such as Spain and Greece. In 2011, there were days of 

rioting in London. In the United States both the Right — the Tea Party protests of 2008 and 
2009 — and the Left — the Occupy movement — have launched enduring citizens protests. 
Polls in these countries revealed strikingly intense levels of discontent with the political class 
and direction of society. 

Authorities faced with unrest generally have two options: to placate the population 
with symbolic concessions or fortify their control to minimize the harm it can do their 
interests. Elites in the West seem to view the second option — fortifying their power — as their 
better, perhaps only viable course of action to protect their position. The response to the 
Occupy movement was to crush it with force, through tear gas, pepper spray, and prosecution. 
The para-militarization of domestic police forces was on full display in American cities, as 
police officers brought out weapons seen on the streets of Baghdad to quell legally assembled 
and largely peaceful protesters. The strategy was to put people in fear of attending marches 
and protests, and it generally worked. The more general aim was to cultivate the sense that 
this sort of resistance is futile against a massive and impenetrable establishment force. 

A system of ubiquitous surveillance achieves the same goal but with even greater 
potency. Merely organizing movements of dissent becomes difficult when the government is 
watching everything people are doing. But mass surveillance kills dissent in a deeper and 
more important place as well: in the mind, where the individual trains him- or herself to think 
only in line with what is expected and demanded. 

History leaves no doubt that collective coercion and control is both the intent and 
effect of state surveillance. The Hollywood screenwriter Walter Bernstein, who was 
blacklisted and monitored during the McCarthy era, forced to write under pseudonyms to 
continue working, has described the dynamic of oppressive self-censorship that comes from 
the sense of being watched: 

Everybody was careful. It was not a time for risk taking.. . . There were writers, 
non-blacklisted writers who did, I don't know what you'd call them, "cutting-edge things," 
but not political. They stayed away from politics. ... I think there was a general feeling of 
"You don't stick your neck out.'Tt's not an atmosphere that helps creativity or lets the mind 
run free. You're always in danger of self-censorship, of saying "no, I won't try this because I 
know it's not going to get done or it'll alienate the government," or something like that. 

Bernstein's observations were eerily echoed in a report released by PEN America in 
November 2013 entitled Chilling Effects: NSA Surveillance Drives U.S. Writers to 
Self-Censor. The organization conducted a survey to look at the effects of the NSA 
revelations on its members, finding that many writers now "assume that their 
communications are being monitored" and have changed their behavior in ways that "curtail 
their freedom of expression and restrict the free flow of information." Specifically, "24% 
have deliberately avoided certain topics in phone or email conversations." 

The pernicious controlling power of ubiquitous surveillance and the self-censorship 
that results are confirmed in a range of social science experiments and extend far beyond 
political activism. Ample studies show how this dynamic works at the deepest personal and 
psychological levels. 

One team of researchers, publishing their findings in the journal Evolutionary 
Psychology, presented their subjects with morally questionable actions, such as keeping a 
sizeable amount of money found in a wallet on the street or knowing that a friend had added 
false information to his resume. The subjects were asked to assess the degree of wrongdoing. 
The study noted that subjects who were shown images hinting at surveillance, such as a large 
pair of staring eyes, rated the actions as more "reprehensible" than those who were shown a 

neutral image. The researchers concluded that surveillance encourages those who are being 
watched to "affirm their endorsement of prevailing social norms" as they attempt to "actively 
manage their reputations." 

A comprehensive experiment conducted in 1975 by Stanford University 
psychologists Gregory White and Philip Zimbardo, entitled "The Chilling Effects of 
Surveillance," sought to assess whether being watched had an impact on the expression of 
controversial political opinions. The impetus for the study was Americans' concerns about 
surveillance by the government: 

The Watergate scandal, revelations of White House bugging, and Congressional 
investigations of domestic spying by the Central Intelligence Agency have served to 
underscore the developing paranoid theme of American life: Big Brother may be watching 
you! Proposals for national data banks, uses of surveillance helicopters by urban police 
forces, the presence of observation cameras in banks and supermarkets, and airport security 
searches of person and property are but some of the signs that our private lives are under such 
increasing scrutiny. The participants were placed under varying levels of surveillance and 
asked to give their views on the legalization of marijuana. 

It turned out that "threatened" subjects — those who were told that their statements 
would be shared with the police "for training purposes" — were more likely to condemn 
marijuana usage and to use second- and third-person pronouns ("you," "they," "people") in 
their language. Only 44 percent of subjects under surveillance advocated for legalization, 
compared to 77 percent of those not so "threatened." Tellingly, 31 percent of the participants 
being monitored spontaneously sought approval from the researchers (asking, for example, 
"Is that all right?"), whereas only 7 percent of the other group did so. Participants who were 
"threatened" also scored significantly higher on feelings of anxiety and inhibition. 

White and Zimbardo noted in their conclusion that the "threat or actuality of 
government surveillance may psychologically inhibit freedom of speech." They added that 
while their "research design did not allow for the possibility of 'avoiding assembly,'" they 
expected that "the anxiety generated by the threat of surveillance would cause many people 
to totally avoid situations" in which they might be monitored. "Since such assumptions are 
limited only by one's imagination and are encouraged daily by revelations of government 
and institutional invasion of privacy," they wrote, "the boundaries between paranoid 
delusions and justified cautions indeed become tenuous." 

It is true that surveillance can at times promote what some may consider desirable 
behavior. One study found that rowdiness in Swedish soccer stadiums — fans throwing 
bottles and lighters onto the field — declined by 65 percent after the introduction of security 
cameras. And public health literature on hand washing has repeatedly confirmed that the way 
to increase the likelihood of someone washing his or her hands is to put someone nearby. 

But overwhelmingly, the effect of being watched is to severely constrain individual 
choice. Even in the most intimate of settings, within the family, for example, surveillance 
turns insignificant actions into a source of self-judgment and anxiety, just by virtue of being 
observed. In one UK experiment, researchers provided subjects with tracking devices to keep 
tabs on family members. Any member's precise location was accessible at any time, and if 
someone's location had been viewed, he would receive a message. Each time one member 
tracked another, he was also sent a questionnaire asking why he had done so and whether the 
information received had matched expectations. 

In the debriefing, participants said that while they sometimes found the tracking 
comforting, they also felt anxious that if they were in an unexpected place, family members 

would "jump to conclusions" about their behavior. And the option of "going 
invisible" — blocking the location-sharing mechanism — did not resolve the anxiety: many 
participants said that the act of avoiding surveillance in and of itself would generate 
suspicion. The researchers concluded: 

There are trails in our daily life that we cannot explain and that may be completely 
insignificant. However, their representation via a tracking device . . . gives them significance, 
seemingly calling for an extraordinary degree of accountability. This generates anxieties, 
especially within close relationships, in which people may feel under greater pressure to 
account for things they simply cannot account for. For a Finnish experiment that carried 
out one of the most radical simulations of surveillance, cameras were placed in subjects' 
homes — bathrooms and bedrooms excluded — and all of their electronic communications 
were tracked. Although the advertisement for the study went viral on social media, the 
researchers had difficulty getting even ten households to participate. 

Among those who signed up, complaints about the project focused on the invasion of 
ordinary parts of their daily lives. One person felt uncomfortable being naked in her home; 
another felt conscious of the cameras while fixing her hair after a shower; someone else 
thought of the surveillance while injecting medicine. Innocuous actions gained layers of 
significance when surveilled. 

Subjects initially described the surveillance as annoying; however, they soon "got 
used to it." What began as deeply invasive became normalized, transformed into the usual 
state of affairs and no longer noticed. 

As the experiments showed, there are all sorts of things people do that they are eager 
to keep private, even though these sorts of things do not constitute doing "something wrong." 
Privacy is indispensable to a wide range of human activities. If someone calls a suicide 
hotline or visits an abortion provider or frequents an online sex website or makes an 
appointment with a rehabilitation clinic or is treated for a disease, or if a whistle-blower calls 
a reporter, there are many reasons for keeping such acts private that have no connection to 
illegality or wrongdoing. 

In sum, everyone has something to hide. Reporter Barton Gellman made the point 
this way: 

Privacy is relational. It depends on your audience. You don't want your employer to know 
you're job hunting. You don't spill all about your love life to your mom, or your kids. You 
don't tell trade secrets to your rivals. We don't expose ourselves indiscriminately and we 
care enough about exposure to lie as a matter of course. Among upstanding citizens, 
researchers have consistently found that lying is "an everyday social interaction" (twice a day 
among college students, once a day in the Real World).. . . Comprehensive transparency is a 
nightmare. . . . Everyone has something to hide. A prime justification for 
surveillance — that it's for the benefit of the population — relies on projecting a view of the 
world that divides citizens into categories of good people and bad people. In that view, the 
authorities use their surveillance powers only against bad people, those who are "doing 
something wrong," and only they have anything to fear from the invasion of their privacy. 
This is an old tactic. In a 1969 Time magazine article about Americans' growing concerns 
over the US government's surveillance powers, Nixon's attorney general, John Mitchell, 
assured readers that "any citizen of the United States who is not involved in some illegal 
activity has nothing to fear whatsoever." 

The point was made again by a White House spokesman, responding to the 2005 
controversy over Bush's illegal eavesdropping program: "This is not about monitoring phone 

calls designed to arrange Little League practice or what to bring to a potluck dinner. These 
are designed to monitor calls from very bad people to very bad people." And when President 
Obama appeared on The Tonight Show in August 2013 and was asked by Jay Leno about 
NSA revelations, he said: "We don't have a domestic spying program. What we do have is 
some mechanisms that can track a phone number or an email address that is connected to a 
terrorist attack." 

For many, the argument works. The perception that invasive surveillance is confined 
only to a marginalized and deserving group of those "doing wrong" — the bad 
people — ensures that the majority acquiesces to the abuse of power or even cheers it on. 

But that view radically misunderstands what goals drive all institutions of authority. 
"Doing something wrong," in the eyes of such institutions, encompasses far more than illegal 
acts, violent behavior, and terrorist plots. It typically extends to meaningful dissent and any 
genuine challenge. It is the nature of authority to equate dissent with wrongdoing, or at least 
with a threat. 

The record is suffused with examples of groups and individuals being placed under 
government surveillance by virtue of their dissenting views and activism — Martin Luther 
King, the civil rights movement, antiwar activists, environmentalists. In the eyes of the 
government and J. Edgar Hoover's FBI, they were all "doing something wrong": political 
activity that threatened the prevailing order. 

Nobody understood better than Hoover the power of surveillance to crush political 
dissent, confronted as he was with the challenge of how to prevent the exercise of First 
Amendment rights of speech and association when the state is barred from arresting people 
for expressing unpopular views. The 1960s ushered in a slew of Supreme Court cases that 
established rigorous protections for free speech, culminating in the unanimous 1969 decision 
in Brandenburg v. Ohio, which overturned the criminal conviction of a Ku Klux Klan leader 
who had threatened violence against political officials in a speech. The Court said that the 
First Amendment guarantees of free speech and free press are so strong that they "do not 
permit a State to forbid or proscribe advocacy of the use of force." 

Given those guarantees, Hoover instituted a system to prevent dissent from 
developing in the first place. 

The FBI's domestic counterintelligence program, COINTELPRO, was first exposed 
by a group of antiwar activists who had become convinced that the antiwar movement had 
been infiltrated, placed under surveillance, and targeted with all sorts of dirty tricks. Lacking 
documentary evidence to prove it and unsuccessful in convincing journalists to write about 
their suspicions, they broke into an FBI branch office in Pennsylvania in 1971 and carted off 
thousands of documents. 

Files related to COINTELPRO showed how the FBI had targeted political groups and 
individuals it deemed subversive and dangerous, including the National Association for the 
Advancement of Colored People, black nationalist movements, socialist and Communist 
organizations, antiwar protesters, and various right-wing groups. The bureau had infiltrated 
them with agents who, among other things, attempted to manipulate members into agreeing 
to commit criminal acts so that the FBI could arrest and prosecute them. 

The FBI succeeded in convincing the New York Times to suppress the documents and 
even return them, but the Washington Post published a series of articles based on them. 
Those revelations led to the creation of the Senate Church Committee, which concluded: 
[Over the course of fifteen years] the Bureau conducted a sophisticated vigilate operation 
aimed squarely at preventing the exercise of First Amendment rights of speech and 

association, on the theory that preventing the growth of dangerous groups and the 
propagation of dangerous ideas would protect the national security and deter violence.Many 
of the techniques used woud be intolerable in a democratic society even if all of the targets 
had been involved in violent activity, but COINTELPRO went far beyond that. The 
unexpressed major premise of the programs was that a law enforcement agency has the duty 
to do whatever is necessary to combat perceived threats to the existing social and political 
order. One key COINTELPRO memo explained that "paranoia" could be sown among 
antiwar activists by letting them believe there was "an F.B.I, agent behind every mailbox." In 
this way, dissidents, always convinced that they were being watched, would drown in fear 
and refrain from activism. 

Unsurprisingly, the tactic worked. In a 2013 documentary entitled 1971, several of 
the activists described how Hoover's FBI was "all over" the civil rights movement with 
infiltrators and surveillance, people who came to meetings and reported back. The 
monitoring impeded the movement's ability to organize and grow. 

At the time, even the most entrenched institutions in Washington understood that the 
mere existence of government surveillance, no matter how it is used, stifles the ability to 
dissent. The Washington Post, in a March 1975 editorial on the break-in, warned about 
precisely this oppressive dynamic: 

The FBI has never shown much sensitivity to the poisonous effect which its surveillance, and 
especially its reliance on faceless informers, has upon the democratic process and upon the 
practice of free speech. But it must be self-evident that discussion and controversy respecting 
governmental policies and programs are bound to be inhibited if it is known that Big Brother, 
under disguise, is listening to them and reporting them. COINTELPRO was far from 
the only surveillance abuse found by the Church Committee. Its final report declared that 
"millions of private telegrams sent from, to, or through the United States were obtained by 
the National Security Agency from 1947 to 1975 under a secret arrangement with three 
United States telegraph companies." Moreover, "some 300,000 individuals were indexed in a 
CIA computer system and separate files were created on approximately 7,200 Americans and 
over 100 domestic groups" during one CIA operation, CHAOS (1967-1973). 

Additionally, "an estimated 100,000 Americans were the subjects of United States 
Army intelligence files created between the mid- 1 960' s and 1971" as well as some 11,000 
individuals and groups who were investigated by the Internal Revenue Service "on the basis 
of political rather than tax criteria." The bureau also used wiretapping to discover 
vulnerabilities, such as sexual activity, which were then deployed to "neutralize" their 

These incidents were not aberrations of the era. During the Bush years, for example, 
documents obtained by the ACLU revealed, as the group put it in 2006, "new details of 
Pentagon surveillance of Americans opposed to the Iraq war, including Quakers and student 
groups." The Pentagon was "keeping tabs on non- violent protestors by collecting 
information and storing it in a military anti-terrorism database." The ACLU noted that one 
document, "labeled 'potential terrorist activity,' lists events such as a 'Stop the War NOW!' 
rally in Akron, Ohio." 

The evidence shows that assurances that surveillance is only targeted at those who 
"have done something wrong" should provide little comfort, since a state will reflexively 

view any challenge to its power as wrongdoing. 

* * * 

The opportunity those in power have to characterize political opponents as "national 
security threats" or even "terrorists" has repeatedly proven irresistible. In the last decade, the 
government, in an echo of Hoover's FBI, has formally so designated environmental activists, 
broad swaths of antigovernment right-wing groups, antiwar activists, and associations 
organized around Palestinian rights. Some individuals within those broad categories may 
deserve the designation, but undoubtedly most do not, guilty only of holding opposing 
political views. Yet such groups are routinely targeted for surveillance by the NSA and its 

Indeed, after British authorities detained my partner, David Miranda, at Heathrow 
airport under an antiterrorism statute, the UK government expressly equated my surveillance 
reporting with terrorism on the ground that the release of the Snowden documents "is 
designed to influence a government and is made for the purposes of promoting a political or 
ideological cause. This therefore falls within the definition of terrorism." This is the clearest 
possible statement of linking a threat to the interests of power to terrorism. 

None of this would come as any surprise to the American Muslim community, where 
the fear of surveillance on the grounds of terrorism is intense and pervasive, and for good 
reason. In 2012, Adam Goldman and Matt Apuzzo of the Associated Press exposed a joint 
CIA/New York Police Department scheme of subjecting entire Muslim communities in the 
United States to physical and electronic surveillance without the slightest whiff of any 
suggestion of wrongdoing. American Muslims routinely describe the effect of spying on their 
lives: each new person who shows up at a mosque is regarded with suspicion as an FBI 
informant; friends and family stifle their conversations for fear of being monitored and out of 
awareness that any expressed view deemed hostile to America can be used as a pretext for 
investigation or even prosecution. 

One document from the Snowden files, dated October 3, 2012, chillingly underscores 
the point. It revealed that the agency has been monitoring the online activities of individuals 
it believes express "radical" ideas and who have a "radicalizing" influence on others. The 
memo discusses six individuals in particular, all Muslims, though it stresses that they are 
merely "exemplars." 

The NSA explicitly states that none of the targeted individuals is a member of a 
terrorist organization or involved in any terror plots. Instead, their crime is the views they 
express, which are deemed "radical," a term that warrants pervasive surveillance and 
destructive campaigns to "exploit vulnerabilities." 

Among the information collected about the individuals, at least one of whom is a 
"U.S. person," are details of their online sex activities and "online promiscuity" — the porn 
sites they visit and surreptitious sex chats with women who are not their wives. The agency 
discusses ways to exploit this information to destroy their reputations and credibility. 


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the susceptible pool of people and where he is vulnerable in terms of access. 

As the ACLU's deputy legal director, Jameel Jaffer, observed, the NSA databases 
"store information about your political views, your medical history, your intimate 
relationships and your activities online." The agency claims this personal information won't 
be abused, "but these documents show that the NSA probably defines 'abuse' very 
narrowly." As Jaffer pointed out, the NSA has historically, at a president's request, "used the 
fruits of surveillance to discredit a political opponent, journalist, or human rights activist." It 
would be "naive," he said, to think the agency couldn't still "use its power that way." 

Other documents describe the government's focus not only on WikiLeaks and its 
founder, Julian Assange, but also on what the agency calls "the human network that supports 
WikiLeaks." In August 2010 the Obama administration urged several allies to file criminal 
charges against Assange for the group's publication of the Afghanistan war logs. The 
discussion around pressuring other nations to prosecute Assange appears in an NSA file that 
the agency calls its "Manhunting Timeline." It details, on a country-by-country basis, the 
efforts by the United States and its allies to locate, prosecute, capture, and/or kill various 
individuals, among them alleged terrorists, drug traffickers, and Palestinian leaders. A 
timeline exists for each year between 2008 and 2012. 

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A separate document contains a summary of a July 201 1 exchange regarding whether 
WikiLeaks, as well as the file-sharing website Pirate Bay, could be designated as "a 
'malicious foreign actor' for the purposes of targeting." The designation would allow 
extensive electronic surveillance of those websites, including US users. The discussion 
appears in a running list of "Q&As" in which officials from the NTOC Oversight and 
Compliance office (NOC) and NSA's Office of General Counsel (OGC) provide answers to 
submitted questions. 

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One such exchange, from 201 1, showed the NSA's indifference to breaking the 

surveillance rules. In the document, an operator says, "I screwed up," having targeted a US 

person instead of a foreigner. The response from the NSA's oversight office and general 

counsel is, "it's nothing to worry about." 

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The treatment of Anonymous, as well as the vague category of people known as 
"hacktivists," is especially troubling and extreme. That's because Anonymous is not actually 
a structured group but a loosely organized affiliation of people around an idea: someone 
becomes affiliated with Anonymous by virtue of the positions they hold. Worse still, the 
category "hacktivists" has no fixed meaning: it can mean the use of programming skills to 
undermine the security and functioning of the Internet but can also refer to anyone who uses 
online tools to promote political ideals. That the NSA targets such broad categories of people 
is tantamount to allowing it to spy on anyone anywhere, including in the United States, 
whose ideas the government finds threatening. 

Gabriella Coleman, a specialist on Anonymous at McGill University, said that the 
group "is not a defined" entity but rather "an idea that mobilizes activists to take collective 
action and voice political discontent. It is a broad-based global social movement with no 
centralized or official organized leadership structure. Some have rallied around the name to 
engage in digital civil disobedience, but nothing remotely resembling terrorism." The 
majority who have embraced the idea have done so "primarily for ordinary political 
expression. Targeting Anonymous and hacktivists amounts to targeting citizens for 
expressing their political beliefs, resulting in the stifling of legitimate dissent," Coleman 

Yet Anonymous has been targeted by a unit of the GCHQ that employs some of the 
most controversial and radical tactics known to spycraft: "false flag operations," 
"honey-traps," viruses and other attacks, strategies of deception, and "info ops to damage 

One PowerPoint slide presented by GCHQ surveillance officials at the 2012 SigDev 
conference describes two forms of attack: "information ops (influence or disruption)" and 
"technical disruption." GCHQ refers to these measures as "Online Covert Action," which is 

intended to achieve what the document calls "The 4 D's: Deny/Disrupt/Degrade/Deceive. 

'Using online techniques to make something 
happen in the real or cyber world" 

Two broad categories: 

• Information Ops (inflisnce W disruption} 

■ Technical disruption 

Known in GCHQ as Online Covert Action 

■ The A D's; Deny 

! Deooivy.- 

Another slide describes the tactics used to "discredit a target." These include "set up a 
honey-trap," "change their photos on social networking sites," "write a blog purporting to be 
one of their victims," and "email/text their colleagues, neighbors, friends, etc." 



Discredit a target 

■ Set up a honey-trap 

■ Change their photos on social networking sites 

■ Write a blog purpartinjgj to be one of their victims 

Email/text their colleagues, neighbours, friends etc 

In accompanying notes, the GCHQ explains that the "honey trap" — an old Cold War 
tactic involving using attractive women to lure male targets into compromising, discrediting 
situations — has been updated for the digital age: now a target is lured to a compromising site 
or online encounter. The comment added: "a great option. Very successful when it works." 
Similarly, traditional methods of group infiltration are now accomplished online: 


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Another technique involves stopping "someone from communicating." To do that, 
the agency will "bombard their phone with text messages," "bombard their phone with calls," 
"delete their online presence," and "block up their fax machine." 

■ Bombard their phone with text messages 
' Bombard their phone with calls 

• Delete their online presence 

■ Block yp their fax machine 

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• Conduct a Denial of Service attack on their computer 

The GCHQ also likes to use "disruption" techniques in lieu of what it calls 
"traditional law enforcement" such as evidence-gathering, courts, and prosecutions. In a 
document entitled "Cyber Offensive Session: Pushing the Boundaries and Action Against 
Hacktivism," the GCHQ discusses its targeting of "hacktivists" with, ironically, "denial of 
service" attacks, a tactic commonly associated with hackers: 

Effects on Hacktivisim 

Op WEALTH - Summer 2011 

< Intel support to Law Enforcement - identification of top 

< Denial of Service on Key Communications outlets 
* Info* mutton Opefsfs&ns 

The British surveillance agency also uses a team of social scientists, including 
psychologists, to develop techniques of "online HUMINT" (human intelligence) and 
"strategic influence disruption." The document "The Art of Deception: Training for a New 
Generation of Online Covert Operations" is devoted to these tactics. Prepared by the 
agency's HSOC (Human Science Operation Cell), the paper claims to draw on sociology, 
psychology, anthropology, neuroscience, and biology, among other fields, to maximize the 
GCHQ's online deception skills. 

One slide shows how to engage in "Dissimulation — Hide the Real," while 
propagating "Simulation — Show the False." It examines "the psychological building blocks 
of deception" and the "map of technologies" used to carry out the deceptions, including 
Facebook, Twitter, Linkedln, and "Web Pages." 

Emphasizing that "people make decisions for emotional reasons not rational ones," 
the GCHQ contends that online behavior is driven by "mirroring" ("people copy each other 
while in social interaction with them"), "accommodation," and "mimicry" ("adoption of 
specific social traits by the communicator from the other participant"). 

The document then lays out what it calls the "Disruption Operational Playbook." This 
includes "infiltration operation," "ruse operation," "false flag operation," and "sting 

operation." It vows a "full roll out" of the disruption program "by early 2013" as "150+ staff 
[are] fully trained." 




■ Infiltration Operation 

• Ruse Operati&n, 

' Set Piece Operation 

* False Flag Operation 

' Fills* 1 Operation 

* Disruption Operation 

• sting operation 

Under the title "Magic Techniques & Experiment," the document references 
"Legitimisation of violence," "Constructing experience in mind of targets which should be 
accepted so they don't realize," and "Optimising deception channels." 

Such government plans to monitor and influence Internet communications and 
disseminate false information online have long been a source of speculation. Harvard law 
professor Cass Sunstein, a close Obama adviser, the White House's former head of the Office 
of Information and Regulatory Affairs, and an appointee to the White House panel to review 
NSA activities, wrote a controversial paper in 2008 proposing that the US government 
employ teams of covert agents and pseudo-"independent" advocates for "cognitive 
infiltration" of online groups, chat rooms, social networks, and websites, as well as off-line 
activist groups. 

These GCHQ documents show for the first time that these controversial techniques to 

deceive and harm reputations have moved from the proposal stage to implementation. 

* * * 

All of the evidence highlights the implicit bargain that is offered to citizens: pose no 
challenge and you have nothing to worry about. Mind your own business, and support or at 
least tolerate what we do, and you'll be fine. Put differently, you must refrain from provoking 
the authority that wields surveillance powers if you wish to be deemed free of wrongdoing. 
This is a deal that invites passivity, obedience, and conformity. The safest course, the way to 
ensure being "left alone," is to remain quiet, unthreatening, and compliant. 

For many, the deal is an attractive one, persuading the majority that surveillance is 
benign or even beneficial. They are too boring to attract the government's attention, they 
reason. "I seriously doubt that the NSA is interested in me" is the sort of thing I've often 
heard. "If they want to listen to my boring life, then they're welcome." Or "the NSA isn't 
interested in your grandmother talking about her recipes or your dad planning his golf game." 

These are people who have become convinced that they themselves are not going to 
be personally targeted — because they are unthreatening and compliant — and therefore either 
deny that it's happening, do not care, or are willing to support it outright. 

Interviewing me soon after the NSA story broke, MSNBC host Lawrence O'Donnell 
mocked the notion of the NSA as "a big, scary surveillance monster." Summing up his view, 
he concluded: 

My feeling so far is ... I'm not scared ... the fact that the government is collecting [data] at 
such a gigantic, massive level means that it's even harder for the government to find me . . . 

and they have absolutely no incentive to find me. And so I, at this stage, feel completely 
unthreatened by this. The New Yorker's Hendrik Hertzberg also asserted similarly 
dismissive views of the dangers of surveillance. Conceding that there "are reasons to be 
concerned about intelligence-agency overreach, excessive secrecy, and lack of 
transparency," he wrote that "there are also reasons to remain calm," in particular, that the 
threat posed "to civil liberties, such as it is, is abstract, conjectural, unspecified." And the 
Washington Post's columnist Ruth Marcus, belittling concern over NSA powers, 
announced — absurdly — "my metadata almost certainly hasn't been scrutinized." 

In one important sense, O'Donnell, Hertzberg, and Marcus are right. It is the case that 
the US government "has absolutely no incentive" to target people like them, for whom the 
threat from a surveillance state is little more than "abstract, conjectural, unspecified." That's 
because journalists who devote their careers to venerating the country's most powerful 
official — the president, who is the NSA's commander-in-chief — and defending his political 
party rarely, if ever, risk alienating those in power. 

Of course, dutiful, loyal supporters of the president and his policies, good citizens 
who do nothing to attract negative attention from the powerful, have no reason to fear the 
surveillance state. This is the case in every society: those who pose no challenge are rarely 
targeted by oppressive measures, and from their perspective, they can then convince 
themselves that oppression does not really exist. But the true measure of a society's freedom 
is how it treats its dissidents and other marginalized groups, not how it treats good loyalists. 
Even in the world's worst tyrannies, dutiful supporters are immunized from abuses of state 
power. In Mubarak's Egypt, it was those who took to the street to agitate for his overthrow 
who were arrested, tortured, gunned down; Mubarak's supporters and people who quietly 
stayed at home were not. In the United States, it was NAACP leaders, Communists, and civil 
rights and anti-war activists who were targeted with Hoover's surveillance, not well-behaved 
citizens who stayed mute about social injustice. 

We shouldn't have to be faithful loyalists of the powerful to feel safe from state 
surveillance. Nor should the price of immunity be refraining from controversial or 
provocative dissent. We shouldn't want a society where the message is conveyed that you 
will be left alone only if you mimic the accommodating behavior and conventional wisdom 
of an establishment columnist. 

Beyond that, the sense of immunity felt by a particular group currently in power is 
bound to be illusory. That is made clear when we look at how partisan affiliation shapes 
people's sense of the dangers of state surveillance. What emerges is that yesterday's 
cheerleaders can quickly become today's dissenters. 

At the time of the 2005 NSA warrantless eavesdropping controversy, liberals and 
Democrats overwhelmingly viewed the agency's surveillance program as menacing. Part of 
this, of course, was typical partisan hackery: George W. Bush was president and Democrats 
saw an opportunity to inflict political harm on him and his party. But a significant part of 
their fear was genuine: because they considered Bush malicious and dangerous, they 
perceived that state surveillance under his control was therefore threatening and that they in 
particular were endangered as political opponents. Accordingly, Republicans had a more 
benign or supportive view of the NSA's actions. In December 2013, by contrast, Democrats 
and progressives had converted to the leading NSA defenders. 

Ample polling data reflected this shift. At the end of July 2013, the Pew Research 
Center released a poll showing that the majority of Americans disbelieved the defenses 
offered for the NSA's actions. In particular, "a majority of Americans — 56% — say that 

federal courts fail to provide adequate limits on the telephone and Internet data the 
government is collecting as part of its anti-terrorism efforts." And "an even larger percentage 
(70%) believes that the government uses this data for purposes other than investigating 
terrorism." Moreover, "63% think the government is also gathering information about the 
content of communications." 

Most remarkably, Americans now considered the danger of surveillance of greater 
concern than the danger of terrorism: 

Overall, 47% say their greater concern about government anti-terrorism policies is that they 
have gone too far in restricting the average person's civil liberties, while 35% say they are 
more concerned that policies have not gone far enough to protect the country. This is the first 
time in Pew Research polling that more have expressed concern over civil liberties than 
protection from terrorism since the question was first asked in 2004. 

Gov't Anti-Terror Policies Have ... 

« Not gone far enough to protect the ajuitry 
* Gone too far in restricting civil liberties 

i 1 1 j — 

2004 2007 2010 2013 

PEW RESEARCH CENTER July 17-21,2013. Q10. 

That polling data was good news for anyone alarmed by use of excessive government 
power and the chronic exaggeration of the threat of terrorism. But it highlighted a telling 
inversion: Republicans, who had been defenders of the NSA under Bush, had been 
supplanted by Democrats once the surveillance system had come under the control of 
President Obama, one of their own. "Nationwide, there is more support for the government's 
data-collection program among Democrats (57% approve) than among Republicans (44%)." 

Similar polling data from the Washington Post revealed that conservatives were far 
more concerned about NSA spying than liberals. When asked, "How concerned are you, if at 
all, about the collection and use of your personal information by the National Security 
Agency?" 48 percent of conservatives were "very concerned" compared to only 26 percent of 
liberals. As law professor Orin Kerr noted, this represented a fundamental change: "It's an 
interesting reversal from 2006, when the President was a Republican instead of a Democrat. 
Back then, a Pew poll found 75% of Republicans approved of NSA surveillance but only 
37% of Democrats approved." 

A Pew chart makes the shift clear: 

Partisan Shifts in Views of NSA Surveillance 

Views of NSA surveillance programs 
(See previous table for differences in question wording) 

June 2013 






























PEW RESEARCH CENTER June 6-9, 2013. Figures read across. Don! know/Refused 
response* not ttown. 

The arguments for and against surveillance brazenly rotate, based on which party in 
power. The NSA's collection of bulk metadata was vehemently denounced by one senator on 
The Early Show in 2006 in this way: 

I don't have to listen to your phone calls to know what you're doing. If I know every single 
phone call that you made, I am able to determine every single person you talked to. I can get 
a pattern about your life that is very, very intrusive.. . . And the real question here is: What do 
they do with this information that they collect that does not have anything to do with Al 
Qaeda?. . . And we're going to trust the president and the vice president of the United States 
that they're doing the right thing? Don't count me in on that. The senator so harshly 
attacking metadata collection was Joe Biden, who subsequently, as vice president, became 
part of a Democratic administration that advanced precisely the same arguments he once 

The relevant point here is not merely that many partisan loyalists are unprincipled 
hypocrites with no real convictions other than a quest for power, although that is certainly 
true. More important is what such statements reveal about the nature of how one regards state 
surveillance. As with so many injustices, people are willing to dismiss fear of government 
overreach when they believe that those who happen to be in control are benevolent and 
trustworthy. They consider surveillance dangerous or worth caring about only when they 
perceive that they themselves are threatened by it. 

Radical expansions of power are often introduced in this way, by persuading people 
that they affect just a specific, discrete group. Governments have long convinced populations 
to turn a blind eye to oppressive conduct by leading citizens to believe, rightly or wrongly, 
that only certain marginalized people are targeted, and everyone else can acquiesce to or even 
support that oppression without fear that it will be applied to them. Leaving aside the obvious 
moral shortcomings of this position — we do not dismiss racism because it is directed at a 
minority, or shrug off hunger on the grounds that we enjoy a plentiful supply of food — it is 
almost always misguided on pragmatic grounds. 

The indifference or support of those who think themselves exempt invariably allows 
for the misuse of power to spread far beyond its original application, until the abuse becomes 
impossible to control — as it inevitably will. There are too many examples to count, but 
perhaps the most recent and potent one is the exploitation of the Patriot Act. A 
near-unanimous Congress approved a massive increase in surveillance and detention powers 

after 9/11, convinced by the argument that doing so would detect and prevent future attacks. 

The implicit assumption was that the powers would be used principally against 
Muslims in relation to terrorism — a classic expansion of power confined to a particular group 
engaged in a particular kind of act — which is one reason why the measure received 
overwhelming backing. But what happened was very different: the Patriot Act has been 
applied well beyond its ostensible purpose. In fact, since its enactment, it has been used 
overwhelmingly in cases having nothing at all to do with terrorism or national security. New 
York magazine revealed that from 2006 to 2009, the "sneak and peek" provision of the act 
(license to execute a search warrant without immediately informing the target) was used in 
1,618 drug-related cases, 122 cases connected with fraud, and just 15 that involved terrorism. 

But once the citizenry acquiesces to a new power, believing that it does not affect 
them, it becomes institutionalized and legitimized and objection becomes impossible. Indeed, 
the central lesson learned by Frank Church in 1975 was the extent of the danger posed by 
mass surveillance. In an interview on Meet the Press, he said: 

That capability at any time could be turned around on the American people and no American 
would have any privacy left, such is the capability to monitor everything — telephone 
conversations, telegrams, it doesn't matter. There would be no place to hide. If this 
government ever became a tyrant . . . the technological capacity that the intelligence 
community has given the government could enable it to impose total tyranny, and there 
would be no way to fight back because the most careful effort to combine together in 
resistance ... is within the reach of the government to know. Such is the capacity of this 
technology. Writing in the New York Times in 2005, James Bamford observed that the 
threat from state surveillance is far more dire today than it was in the 1970s: "With people 
expressing their innermost thoughts in e-mail messages, exposing their medical and financial 
records to the Internet, and chatting constantly on cellphones, the agency virtually has the 
ability to get inside a person's mind." 

Church's concern, that any surveillance ability "could be turned around on the 
American people," is precisely what the NSA has done post-9/1 1. Despite operating under 
the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, and despite the prohibition on domestic spying 
embedded in the agency's mission from the start, many of its surveillance activities are now 
focused on US citizens on US soil. 

Even absent abuse, and even if one is not personally targeted, a surveillance state that 
collects it all harms society and political freedom in general. Progress both in the United 
States and other nations was only ever achieved through the ability to challenge power and 
orthodoxies and to pioneer new ways of thinking and living. Everyone, even those who do 
not engage in dissenting advocacy or political activism, suffers when that freedom is stifled 
by the fear of being watched. Hendrik Hertzberg, who downplayed concerns about the NSA 
programs, nonetheless acknowledged that "harm has been done. The harm is civic. The harm 
is collective. The harm is to the architecture of trust and accountability that supports an open 
society and a democratic polity." 

* * * 

Surveillance cheerleaders essentially offer only one argument in defense of mass 
surveillance: it is only carried out to stop terrorism and keep people safe. Indeed, invoking an 
external threat is a historical tactic of choice to keep the population submissive to 
government powers. The US government has heralded the danger of terrorism for more than 
a decade to justify a host of radical acts, from renditions and torture to assassinations and the 

invasion of Iraq. Ever since the 9/11 attack, US officials reflexively produce the word 
"terrorism." It is far more of a slogan and tactic than an actual argument or persuasive 
justification for action. And in the case of surveillance, overwhelming evidence shows how 
dubious a justification it is. 

To begin with, much of the data collection conducted by the NSA has manifestly 
nothing to do with terrorism or national security. Intercepting the communications of the 
Brazilian oil giant Petrobras or spying on negotiation sessions at an economic summit or 
targeting the democratically elected leaders of allied states or collecting all Americans' 
communications records has no relationship to terrorism. Given the actual surveillance the 
NSA does, stopping terror is clearly a pretext. 

Moreover, the argument that mass surveillance has prevented terror plots — a claim 
made by President Obama and a range of national security figures — has been proved false. 
As the Washington Post noted in December 2013, in an article headlined "Officials' 
Defenses of NSA Phone Program May Be Unraveling," a federal judge declared the phone 
metadata collection program "almost certainly" unconstitutional, in the process saying that 
the Justice Department failed to "cite a single case in which analysis of the NSA's bulk 
metadata collection actually stopped an imminent terrorist attack." 

That same month, Obama' s hand-picked advisory panel (composed of, among others, 
a former CIA deputy director and a former White House aide, and convened to study the 
NSA program through access to classified information) concluded that the metadata program 
"was not essential to preventing attacks and could readily have been obtained in a timely 
manner using conventional [court] orders." 

Quoting the Post again: "In congressional testimony, [Keith] Alexander has credited 
the program with helping to detect dozens of plots both in the United States and overseas" but 
the advisory panel's report "cut deeply into the credibility of those claims." 

Additionally, as Democratic senators Ron Wyden, Mark Udall, and Martin 
Heinrich — all members of the Intelligence Committee — baldly stated in the New York Times, 
the mass collection of telephone records has not enhanced Americans' protection from the 
threat of terrorism. 

The usefulness of the bulk collection program has been greatly exaggerated. We have yet to 
see any proof that it provides real, unique value in protecting national security. In spite of our 
repeated requests, the N.S.A. has not provided evidence of any instance when the agency 
used this program to review phone records that could not have been obtained using a regular 
court order or emergency authorization. A study by the centrist New America 
Foundation testing the veracity of official justifications for the bulk metadata collection 
concurred that the program "has had no discernible impact on preventing acts of terrorism." 
Instead, as the Washington Post noted, in most cases where plots were disrupted the study 
found that "traditional law enforcement and investigative methods provided the tip or 
evidence to initiate the case." 

The record is indeed quite poor. The collect-it- all system did nothing to detect, let 
alone disrupt, the 2012 Boston Marathon bombing. It did not detect the attempted 
Christmas-day bombing of a jetliner over Detroit, or the plan to blow up Times Square, or the 
plot to attack the New York City subway system — all of which were stopped by alert 
bystanders or traditional police powers. It certainly did nothing to stop the string of mass 
shootings from Aurora to Newtown. Major international attacks from London to Mumbai to 
Madrid proceeded without detection, despite involving at least dozens of operatives. 

And despite exploitative claims from the NSA, bulk surveillance would not have 

given the intelligence services better tools to prevent the attack on 9/1 1. Keith Alexander, 
speaking to a House intelligence committee, said, "I would much rather be here today 
debating" the program "than trying to explain how we failed to prevent another 9/11." (The 
same argument, verbatim, appeared in talking points the NSA gave its employees to use to 
fend off questions.) 

The implication is rank fearmongering and deceitful in the extreme. As CNN security 
analyst Peter Bergen has shown, the CIA had multiple reports about an al-Qaeda plot and 
"quite a bit of information about two of the hijackers and their presence in the United States," 
which "the agency didn't share with other government agencies until it was too late to do 
anything about it." 

Lawrence Wright, the New Yorker's al-Qaeda expert, also debunked the NSA's 
proposition that metadata collection could have stopped 9/11, explaining that the CIA 
"withheld crucial intelligence from the FBI, which has the ultimate authority to investigate 
terrorism in the U.S. and attacks on Americans abroad." The FBI could have stopped 9/11, he 

It had a warrant to establish surveillance of everyone connected to Al Qaeda in America. It 
could follow them, tap their phones, clone their computers, read their e-mails, and subpoena 
their medical, bank, and credit-card records. It had the right to demand records from 
telephone companies of any calls they had made. There was no need for a 
metadata-collection program. What was needed was cooperation with other federal agencies, 
but for reasons both petty and obscure those agencies chose to hide vital clues from the 
investigators most likely to avert the attacks. The government was in possession of the 
necessary intelligence but had failed to understand or act on it. The solution that it then 
embarked on — to collect everything, en masse — has done nothing to fix that failure. 

Over and over, from multiple corners, the invocation of the terrorism threat to justify 
surveillance was exposed as a sham. 

In fact, mass surveillance has had quite the opposite effect: it makes detecting and 
stopping terror more difficult. Democratic Congressman Rush Holt, a physicist and one of 
the few scientists in Congress, has made the point that collecting everything about 
everyone's communications only obscures actual plots being discussed by actual terrorists. 
Directed rather than indiscriminate surveillance would yield more specific and useful 
information. The current approach swamps the intelligence agencies with so much data that 
they cannot possibly sort through it effectively. 

Beyond providing too much information, NSA surveillance schemes end up 
increasing the country's vulnerability: the agency's efforts to override the encryption 
methods protecting common Internet transactions — such as banking, medical records, and 
commerce — have left these systems open to infiltration by hackers and other hostile entities. 

Security expert Bruce Schneier, writing in the Atlantic in January 2014, pointed out: 
Not only is ubiquitous surveillance ineffective, it is extraordinarily costly. ... It breaks our 
technical systems, as the very protocols of the Internet become untrusted. . . . It's not just 
domestic abuse we have to worry about; it's the rest of the world, too. The more we choose to 
eavesdrop on the Internet and other communications technologies, the less we are secure 
from eavesdropping by others. Our choice isn't between a digital world where the NSA can 
eavesdrop and one where the NSA is prevented from eavesdropping; it's between a digital 
world that is vulnerable to all attackers, and one that is secure for all users. What is perhaps 
most remarkable about the bottomless exploitation of the threat of terrorism is that it is so 
plainly exaggerated. The risk of any American dying in a terrorist attack is infinitesimal, 

considerably less than the chance of being struck by lightning. John Mueller, an Ohio State 
University professor who has written extensively about the balance between threat and 
expenditures in fighting terrorism, explained in 201 1: "The number of people worldwide 
who are killed by Muslim-type terrorists, Al Qaeda wannabes, is maybe a few hundred 
outside of war zones. It's basically the same number of people who die drowning in the 
bathtub each year." 

More American citizens have "undoubtedly" died "overseas from traffic accidents or 
intestinal illnesses," the news agency McClatchy reported, "than from terrorism." 

The idea that we should dismantle the core protections of our political system to erect 
a ubiquitous surveillance state for the sake of this risk is the height of irrationality. Yet 
exaggeration of the threat is repeated over and over. Shortly before the 2012 Olympics in 
London, controversy erupted over a supposed lack of security. The company contracted to 
provide security had failed to appoint the number of guards required by its contract, and shrill 
voices from around the globe insisted that the games were therefore vulnerable to a terrorist 

After the trouble-free Olympics, Stephen Walt noted in Foreign Policy that the outcry 
was driven, as usual, by severe exaggeration of the threat. He cited an essay by John Mueller 
and Mark G. Stewart in International Security for which the authors had analyzed fifty cases 
of purported "Islamic terrorist plots" against the United States, only to conclude that 
"virtually all of the perpetrators were 'incompetent, ineffective, unintelligent, idiotic, 
ignorant, unorganized, misguided, muddled, amateurish, dopey, unrealistic, moronic, 
irrational, and foolish.'" Mueller and Stewart quoted from Glenn Carle, former deputy 
national intelligence officer for transnational threats, who said, "We must see jihadists for the 
small, lethal, disjointed and miserable opponents that they are," and they noted that 
al-Qaeda's "capabilities are far inferior to its desires." 

The problem, though, is that there are far too many power factions with a vested 
interest in the fear of terrorism: the government, seeking justification for its actions; the 
surveillance and weapons industries, drowning in public funding; and the permanent power 
factions in Washington, committed to setting their priorities without real challenge. Stephen 
Walt made this point: 

Mueller and Stewart estimate that expenditures on domestic homeland security (i.e., not 
counting the wars in Iraq or Afghanistan) have increased by more than $1 trillion since 9/11, 
even though the annual risk of dying in a domestic terrorist attack is about 1 in 3.5 million. 
Using conservative assumptions and conventional risk-assessment methodology, they 
estimate that for these expenditures to be cost-effective "they would have had to deter, 
prevent, foil or protect against 333 very large attacks that would otherwise have been 
successful every year." Finally, they worry that this exaggerated sense of danger has now 
been "internalized": even when politicians and "terrorism experts" aren't hyping the danger, 
the public still sees the threat as large and imminent.As the fear of terrorism has been 
manipulated, the proven dangers of allowing the state to operate a massive secret 
surveillance system have been seriously understated. 

Even if the threat of terrorism were at the level claimed by the government, that 
would still not justify the NSA's surveillance programs. Values other than physical safety are 
at least as if not more important. This recognition was embedded in US political culture from 
the nation's inception, and is no less crucial for other countries. 

Nations and individuals constantly make choices that place the values of privacy and, 
implicitly, freedom above other objectives, such as physical safety. Indeed, the very purpose 

of the Fourth Amendment in the US Constitution is to prohibit certain police actions, even 
though they might reduce crime. If the police were able to barge into any home without a 
warrant, murderers, rapists, and kidnappers might be more easily apprehended. If the state 
were permitted to place monitors in our homes, crime would probably fall significantly (this 
is certainly true of house burglaries, yet most people would recoil in revulsion at the 
prospect). If the FBI were permitted to listen to our conversations and seize our 
communications, a wide array of crime could conceivably be prevented and solved. 

But the Constitution was written to prevent such suspicionless invasions by the state. 
By drawing the line at such actions, we knowingly allow for the probability of greater 
criminality. Yet we draw that line anyway, exposing ourselves to a higher degree of danger, 
because pursuing absolute physical safety has never been our single overarching societal 

Above even our physical well-being, a central value is keeping the state out of the 
private realm — our "persons, houses, papers, and effects," as the Fourth Amendment puts it. 
We do so precisely because that realm is the crucible of so many of the attributes typically 
associated with the quality of life — creativity, exploration, intimacy. 

Forgoing privacy in a quest for absolute safety is as harmful to a healthy psyche and 
life of an individual as it is to a healthy political culture. For the individual, safety first means 
a life of paralysis and fear, never entering a car or airplane, never engaging in an activity that 
entails risk, never weighing quality of life over quantity, and paying any price to avoid 

Fearmongering is a favored tactic by authorities precisely because fear so 
persuasively rationalizes an expansion of power and curtailment of rights. Since the 
beginning of the War on Terror, Americans have frequently been told that they must 
relinquish their core political rights if they are to have any hope of avoiding catastrophe. 
From Senate Intelligence chair Pat Roberts, for example: "I am a strong supporter of the First 
Amendment, the Fourth Amendment and civil liberties. But you have no civil liberties if you 
are dead." And GOP senator John Cornyn, who ran for reelection in Texas with a video of 
himself as a tough guy in a cowboy hat, issued a cowardly paean to the benefit of giving up 
rights: "None of your civil liberties matter much after you're dead." 

Talk radio host Rush Limbaugh piled on, displaying historical ignorance by asking 
his large audience: "When is the last time you heard a president declare war on the basis that 
we gotta go protect our civil liberties? I can't think of one.. . . Our civil liberties are worthless 
if we are dead! If you are dead and pushing up daisies, if you're sucking dirt inside a casket, 
do you know what your civil liberties are worth? Zilch, zero, nada." 

A population, a country that venerates physical safety above all other values will 
ultimately give up its liberty and sanction any power seized by authority in exchange for the 
promise, no matter how illusory, of total security. However, absolute safety is itself chimeric, 
pursued but never obtained. The pursuit degrades those who engage in it as well as any nation 
that comes to be defined by it. 

The danger posed by the state operating a massive secret surveillance system is far 
more ominous now than at any point in history. While the government, via surveillance, 
knows more and more about what its citizens are doing, its citizens know less and less about 
what their government is doing, shielded as it is by a wall of secrecy. 

It is hard to overstate how radically this situation reverses the defining dynamic of a 
healthy society or how fundamentally it shifts the balance of power toward the state. 
Bentham's Panopticon, designed to vest unchallengeable power in the hands of authorities, 

was based on exactly this reversal: "The essence of it," he wrote, rests in "the centrality of the 
inspector's situation" combined with the "most effectual contrivances for seeing without 
being seen." 

In a healthy democracy, the opposite is true. Democracy requires accountability and 
consent of the governed, which is only possible if citizens know what is being done in their 
name. The presumption is that, with rare exception, they will know everything their political 
officials are doing, which is why they are called public servants, working in the public sector, 
in public service, for public agencies. Conversely, the presumption is that the government, 
with rare exception, will not know anything that law-abiding citizens are doing. That is why 
we are called private individuals, functioning in our private capacity. Transparency is for 
those who carry out public duties and exercise public power. Privacy is for everyone else. 



One of the principal institutions ostensibly devoted to monitoring and checking abuse 
of state power is the political media. The theory of a "fourth estate" is to ensure government 
transparency and provide a check on overreach, of which the secret surveillance of entire 
populations is surely among the most radical examples. But that check is only effective if 
journalists act adversarially to those who wield political power. Instead, the US media has 
frequently abdicated this role, being subservient to the government's interests, even 
amplifying, rather than scrutinizing, its messages and carrying out its dirty work. 

In this context, I knew that media hostility toward my reporting on Snowden's 
disclosures was inevitable. On June 6, the day after the first NSA article ran in the Guardian, 
the New York Times introduced the possibility of a criminal investigation. "After writing 
intensely, even obsessively, for years about government surveillance and prosecution of 
journalists, Glenn Greenwald has suddenly put himself directly at the intersection of those 
two issues, and perhaps in the crosshairs of federal prosecutors," the paper proclaimed in a 
profile of me. My NSA reporting, it added, "is expected to attract an investigation from the 
Justice Department, which has aggressively pursued leakers." The profile quoted the 
neoconservative Gabriel Schoenfeld of the Hudson Institute, who has long advocated the 
prosecution of journalists for publishing secret information, calling me "a highly 
professional apologist for any kind of anti-Americanism no matter how extreme." 

The most revealing evidence of the Times' s intentions came from the journalist 
Andrew Sullivan, who was quoted in the same profile saying, "Once you get into a debate 
with [Greenwald], it can be hard to get the last word," and "I think he has little grip on what it 
actually means to govern a country or run a war." Disturbed by the use of his comments out 
of context, Andrew later sent me his full exchange with the Times reporter Leslie Kaufman, 
which included praise for my work that the paper had notably chosen to omit. What was more 
telling, however, were the original questions Kaufman had sent him: 

• "He obviously had strong opinions, but how is he as a journalist? Reliable? Honest? Quotes 
you accurately? Accurately describes your positions? Or is more advocate than journalist?"* 
"He says you are a friend, is this so? I get the sense that he is something of a loner and has the 
kind of uncompromising opinions that makes it hard to keep friends, but could be wrong." 

The second question — that I'm "something of a loner" who has trouble keeping 
friends — was, in some sense, even more significant than the first. Discrediting the messenger 
as a misfit to discredit the message is an old ploy when it comes to whistle-blowing, and it 

often works. 

The effort to discredit me personally was fully brought home when I received an 
email from a reporter for the New York Daily News. He said he was investigating various 
aspects of my past, including debts, tax liability, and partnership in an adult video 
distribution company by a private corporation in which I had owned shares eight years earlier. 
Because the Daily News is a tabloid often trafficking in personal sleaze, I decided not to 
respond: there was no reason to bring more attention to the issues it had raised. 

But that same day, I received an email from a Times reporter, Michael Schmidt, also 
interested in writing about my past tax debt. How the two newspapers had simultaneously 
learned of such obscure details was a mystery, but the Times had evidently decided that my 
prior debt was newsworthy — even as it refused to provide any rationale for why that was the 

These issues were plainly trivial and intended to smear. The Times ended up not 
running the story, unlike the Daily News, which even included details of a conflict I had in 
my apartment building ten years earlier over a claim that my dog exceeded the weight limit 
allowed by the condominium bylaws. 

While the smear campaign was predictable, the effort to deny my status as a journalist 
was not, and it had potentially drastic ramifications. Again, this campaign was kicked off by 
the New York Times, also in its June 6 profile. In the headline the paper went out of its way to 
assign me some non-journalistic title: "Blogger, with Focus on Surveillance, Is at Center of a 
Debate." As bad as the headline was, the online original was even worse: 'Anti-Surveillance 
Activist Is at Center of a New Leak." 

The paper's public editor, Margaret Sullivan, criticized the headline, saying she 
found it "dismissive." She added: "There's nothing wrong with being a blogger, of course — I 
am one myself. But when the media establishment uses the term, it somehow seems to say, 
'You're not quite one of us.'" 

The article went on repeatedly to cast me as something other than a "journalist" or 
"reporter." I was, it declared, a "lawyer and longtime blogger" (I have not practiced law for 
six years, and had worked for years as a columnist at major news venues, in addition to 
having published four books). To the extent I ever acted "as a journalist," it said, my 
experience was "unusual," not because of my "clear opinions" but because I had "rarely 
reported to an editor." 

The media in full then got into a debate about whether I was in fact a "journalist" as 
opposed to something else. The most commonly offered alternative was "activist." Nobody 
bothered to define any of these words, relying instead on ill-defined cliches, as the media 
tends to do, particularly when the goal is demonization. Thereafter, the empty, vapid label 
was routinely applied. 

The designation had real significance on several levels. For one, removing the label 
of "journalist" diminishes the legitimacy of the reporting. Moreover, turning me into an 
"activist" could have legal — that is, criminal — consequences. There are both formal and 
unwritten legal protections offered to journalists that are unavailable to anyone else. While it 
is considered generally legitimate for a journalist to publish government secrets, for example, 
that's not the case for someone acting in any other capacity. 

Intentionally or not, those pushing the idea that I was not a journalist — despite the 
fact that I was writing for one of the oldest and largest newspapers in the Western 
world — were making it easier for the government to criminalize my reporting. After the New 
York Times proclaimed me an "activist," Sullivan, the public editor, acknowledged that 

"these matters have taken on more significance in the current climate, and could be crucial 
for Mr. Greenwald." 

The allusion to "the current climate" was shorthand for two major controversies that 
had engulfed Washington involving the administration's treatment of journalists. The first 
was the DOJ's secret acquisition of emails and telephone records of Associated Press 
reporters and editors to find out their source for a story. 

The second, more extreme incident involved the DOJ's effort to learn the identity of 
another source who had leaked secret information. To do so, the department filed an affidavit 
in federal court seeking a warrant to read the emails of Fox News Washington bureau chief 
James Rosen. 

In the application for the warrant, government lawyers branded Rosen a 
"co-conspirator" in the source's felonies by virtue of the fact that he had obtained classified 
material. The affidavit was shocking because, as the New York Times put it, "no American 
journalist has ever been prosecuted for gathering and publishing classified information, so 
the language raised the prospect that the Obama administration was taking its leak 
crackdown to a new level." 

The behavior cited by the DOJ to justify Rosen's designation as 
"co-conspirator" — working with his source to obtain documents, establishing a "covert 
communication plan" to speak without detection, and "employing flattery and playing to [his 
source's] vanity and ego" to persuade him to leak — were all things investigative journalists 
routinely do. 

As veteran Washington reporter Olivier Knox put it, the DOJ had "accused Rosen of 
breaking anti-espionage law with behavior that — as described in the agent's own 
affidavit — falls well inside the bounds of traditional news reporting." To view Rosen's 
conduct as a felony was to criminalize journalism itself. 

This move was perhaps less surprising than it might have been, given the larger 
context of the Obama administration's attacks on whistleblowers and sources. In 201 1, the 
New York Times revealed that the DOJ, attempting to find the source for a book written by 
James Risen, had "obtained extensive records about his phone calls, finances and travel 
history," including "his 'credit card and bank records and certain records of his airline travel' 
and three credit reports listing his financial accounts." 

The DOJ was also trying to force Risen to reveal his source's identity, with the likely 
prospect of prison if he refused to do so. Journalists around the country were dismayed by 
Risen' s treatment: if one of the most accomplished and institutionally protected investigative 
reporters could be subject to such an aggressive attack, then so could any journalist. 

Many in the press responded with alarm. One typical article, from USA Today, noted 
that "President Obama finds himself battling charges that his administration has effectively 
launched a war on journalists," and quoted former Los Angeles Times national security 
reporter Josh Meyer saying: "There's a red line that no other administration has crossed 
before that the Obama administration has blown right past." Jane Mayer, the widely admired 
investigative reporter for the New Yorker, warned in the New Republic that the Obama DOJ's 
targeting of whistle-blowers was operating as an attack on journalism itself: "It's a huge 
impediment to reporting, and so chilling isn't quite strong enough, it's more like freezing the 
whole process into a standstill." 

The Committee to Protect Journalists — an international organization that monitors 
attacks on press freedoms by the state — was moved by the situation to issue its first-ever 
report about the United States. Written by Leonard Downie Jr., past executive editor of the 

Washington Post, the report, issued in October 2013, concluded: 
The administration's war on leaks and other efforts to control information are the most 
aggressive . . . since the Nixon administration.. . . The 30 experienced Washington journalists 
at a variety of news organizations . . . interviewed for this report could not remember any 
precedent. The dynamic extended beyond national security to encompass, as one bureau 
chief said, an effort "to thwart accountability reporting about government agencies." 

US journalists, for years overwhelmingly enamored of Barack Obama, were now 
commonly speaking of him in these terms: as some sort of grave menace to press freedoms, 
the most repressive leader in this regard since Richard Nixon. That was quite a remarkable 
turn for a politician who was ushered into power vowing "the most transparent 
administration in US history." 

To tamp down the growing scandal, Obama ordered Attorney General Eric Holder to 
meet with representatives of the media and review the rules governing the DOJ's treatment of 
journalists. Obama claimed to be "troubled by the possibility that leak investigations may 
chill the investigative journalism that holds government accountable" — as though he hadn't 
presided over five years of precisely those sorts of assaults on the news-gathering process. 

Holder vowed in a Senate hearing on June 6, 2013 (the day after the Guardian's first 
NSA story) that the DOJ would never prosecute "any reporter for doing his or her job." The 
DOJ's goal, he added, is merely "to identify and prosecute government officials who 
jeopardize national security by violating their oaths, not to target members of the press or 
discourage them from carrying out their vital work." 

On some level, this was a welcome development: the administration had evidently 
felt sufficient backlash to create at least the appearance of addressing press freedom. But 
there was a huge, gaping hole in Holder's vow: the DOJ had determined, in the case of Fox 
News's Rosen, that working with one's source to "steal" classified information was beyond 
the scope of the "reporter's job." Thus Holder's guarantee depended on the DOJ's view of 
what journalism is and what exceeds the boundaries of legitimate reporting. 

Against that background, the effort by some media figures to cast me out of 
"journalism" — to insist that what I was doing was "activism," not reporting, and therefore 
criminal — was potentially dangerous. 

The first explicit call to prosecute me came from New York Republican congressman 
Peter King, who had served as chairman of the House Subcommittee on Terrorism and had 
convened McCarthyite hearings on the terror threat posed "from within" by the American 
Muslim community (ironically, King was a longtime supporter of the IRA). King confirmed 
to CNN's Anderson Cooper that reporters working on the NSA stories should be prosecuted 
"if they willingly knew that this was classified information . . . especially on something of 
this magnitude." He added, "There is an obligation both moral but also legal, I believe, 
against a reporter disclosing something that would so severely compromise national 

King later clarified on Fox News that he was speaking specifically of me: 
I'm talking about Greenwald . . . not only did he disclose this information, he has said that he 
has names of CIA agents and assets around the world, and they're threatening to disclose that. 
The last time that was done in this country, we saw a CIA station chief murdered in 
Greece. ... I think [prosecution of journalists] should be very targeted, very selective and 
certainly a very rare exception. But, in this case, when you have someone who discloses 
secrets like this and threatens to release more, yes, there has to be — legal action taken against 
him. That I had threatened to release the names of CIA agents and assets was a complete 

fabrication. Nonetheless, his remarks opened the floodgates and commentators piled on. The 
Washington Post's Marc Thiessen, a former Bush speechwriter who wrote a book justifying 
the US torture program, defended King under the headline, "Yes, Publishing NSA Secrets Is 
a Crime." Accusing me of "violating 18 USC 798, which makes it a criminal act to publish 
classified information revealing government cryptography or communications intelligence," 
he added, "Greenwald clearly violated this law (as did the Post, for that matter, when it 
published classified details of the NSA's PRISM program)." 

Alan Dershowitz went on CNN and pronounced: "Greenwald — in my view — clearly 
has committed a felony." A known defender of civil liberties and press freedoms, Dershowitz 
nonetheless said that my reporting "doesn't border on criminality — it's right in the heartland 
of criminality." 

The growing chorus was joined by General Michael Hay den, who led both the NSA 
and then the CIA under George Bush, and implemented the agency's illegal warrantless 
eavesdropping program. "Edward Snowden," he wrote on, "will likely prove to be 
the most costly leaker of American secrets in the history of the Republic," and then added 
that "Glenn Greenwald" is "far more deserving of the Justice Department's characterization 
of a co-conspirator than Fox's James Rosen ever was." 

At first largely confined to right-wing figures who could be expected to view 
journalism as a crime, the chorus of voices raising the question of prosecution grew during a 
now-infamous appearance on Meet the Press. 

The White House itself has praised Meet the Press as a comfortable venue for DC 
political figures and other elites to deliver their message without much challenge. The 
weekly NBC program was hailed by Catherine Martin, former vice president Dick Cheney's 
communications director, as "our best format" because Cheney was able to "control the 
message." Putting the vice president on Meet the Press was, she said, a "tactic we often 
used." Indeed, a video of the show's host, David Gregory, onstage at the White House 
Correspondents' Dinner, dancing awkwardly but enthusiastically behind a rapping Karl 
Rove, went viral because it so vividly symbolized what the show is: a place where political 
power goes to be amplified and flattered, where only the most staid conventional wisdom is 
heard, where only the narrowest range of views is permitted. 

I was invited to appear on the program at the last minute and only out of necessity. 
Hours earlier, the news broke that Snowden had left Hong Kong and was on a plane to 
Moscow, a dramatic turn of events that would inevitably dominate the news cycle. Meet the 
Press had no choice but to lead with the story, and, as one of the very few people in contact 
with Snowden, I was asked to be on the show as the lead guest. 

I had harshly criticized Gregory over the years and anticipated an adversarial 
interview. But I did not expect this question from him: "To the extent that you have aided and 
abetted Snowden, even in his current movements, why shouldn't you, Mr. Greenwald, be 
charged with a crime?" There were so many things wrong with the question that it took a 
minute to process that he had actually asked it. 

The most glaring problem was the number of baseless assumptions embedded in the 
question. The statement "To the extent" that I had "aided and abetted Snowden, even in his 
current movements" is no different than saying "To the extent that Mr. Gregory has 
murdered his neighbors. . ." This was nothing but a striking example of the "When did you 
stop beating your wife?" formulation. 

But beyond the rhetorical fallacy, a TV journalist had just given credence to the 
notion that other journalists could and should be prosecuted for doing journalism, an 

extraordinary assertion. Gregory's question implied that every investigative reporter in the 
United States who works with sources and receives classified information is a criminal. It 
was precisely this theory and climate that had made investigative reporting so precarious. 

Predictably, Gregory repeatedly depicted me as something other than a "journalist." 
He prefaced one question by proclaiming: "You are a polemicist here, you have a point of 
view, you are a columnist." And he announced: "The question of who's a journalist may be 
up to a debate with regard to what you're doing." 

But Gregory wasn't the only one making these arguments. Not one of the Meet the 
Press panel, convened to discuss my exchange with Gregory, objected to the notion that a 
journalist could be prosecuted for working with a source. NBC's Chuck Todd bolstered that 
theory by ominously raising "questions" about what he called my "role" in "the plot": 
Glenn Greenwald . . . how much was he involved in the plot?. . . did he have a role beyond 
simply being a receiver of this information? And is he going to have to answer those 
questions? You know, there is — there is — there is a point of law. One CNN show, 
Reliable Sources, debated the question while a graphic remained on the screen that read, 
"Should Glenn Greenwald be prosecuted?" 

The Washington Post's Walter Pincus — who spied on US students abroad on behalf 
of the CIA in the 1960s — wrote a column strongly suggesting that Laura, Snowden, and I 
were all operating as part of a plot secretly masterminded by WikiLeaks founder Julian 
Assange. The column was filled with so many factual errors (ones I documented in an open 
letter to Pincus) that the Post was forced to append an unusually large, three-paragraph, 
two-hundred- word correction acknowledging multiple mistakes. 

On his own CNBC show, New York Times financial columnist Andrew Ross Sorkin 


I feel like, A, we've screwed this up, even letting [Snowden] get to Russia. B, clearly the 
Chinese hate us to even let him out of the country. ... I would arrest him, and now I would 
almost arrest Glenn Greenwald, who's the journalist who seems to want to help him get to 
Ecuador. That a reporter for the Times, which had fought all the way to the US Supreme 
Court in order to publish the Pentagon Papers, would advocate my arrest was a potent sign of 
the devotion of many establishment journalists to the US government: after all, criminalizing 
investigative journalism would have a grave impact on that paper and its employees. Sorkin 
did later apologize to me, but his remarks demonstrated the speed and ease with which such 
assertions gain traction. 

Fortunately, this view was far from unanimous among the American press corps. 
Indeed, the specter of criminalization prompted many journalists to rally in support of my 
work, and on various mainstream television programs the hosts were more interested in the 
substance of the revelations than in demonizing those involved. Much condemnation of 
Gregory's question was voiced during the week following his interview. From the Huffington 
Post: "We still can't quite believe what David Gregory asked Glenn Greenwald just now." 
Toby Harnden, the Washington bureau chief of the UK's Sunday Times, tweeted: "I was 
jailed by Mugabe's Zimbabwe for 'practicing journalism.' Is David Gregory saying Obama's 
America should do the same?" Numerous reporters and columnists at the New York Times, 
the Post, and other places defended me both publicly and privately. But no amount of support 
could counter the fact that the reporters themselves had sanctioned the prospect of legal 

Lawyers and other advisers agreed that there was a real risk of arrest should I return to 
the United States. I tried to find one person whose judgment I trusted to tell me that the risk 

was nonexistent, that it was inconceivable that the DOJ would prosecute me. No one said that. 
The general view was that the DOJ would not move against me explicitly for my reporting, 
wanting to avoid the appearance of going after journalists. The concern was rather that the 
government would concoct a theory that the supposed crimes I had committed were outside 
of the realm of journalism. Unlike the Washington Post's Barton Gellman, I had traveled to 
Hong Kong to meet Snowden before publishing the stories; I had spoken to him regularly 
once he arrived in Russia and had published stories about the NSA on a freelance basis with 
newspapers around the world. The DOJ could try to claim that I had "aided and abetted" 
Snowden in his leaks or had helped a "fugitive" flee justice, or that my work with foreign 
newspapers constituted some type of espionage. 

Moreover, my commentary about the NSA and the US government had deliberately 
been aggressive and defiant. The government was no doubt desperate to punish someone for 
what had been called the most damaging leak in the country's history, if not to alleviate 
institutional rage, then at least as a deterrent to others. Since the head most wanted on a pike 
was safely residing under the shield of political asylum in Moscow, Laura and I were a 
desirable second choice. 

For months, several lawyers with high-level contacts in the Justice Department 
attempted to obtain informal assurances that I would not be prosecuted. In October, five 
months after the first story ran, Congressman Alan Grayson wrote to Attorney General 
Holder, noting that prominent political figures had called for my arrest and that I had had to 
decline an invitation to testify before Congress about the NSA due to concerns about possible 
prosecution. He concluded the letter saying: 

I regard this as regrettable because (1) the commission of journalism is not a crime; (2) on the 
contrary, it is protected explicitly under the First Amendment; (3) Mr. Greenwald's reports 
regarding these subjects have, in fact, informed me, other members of Congress, and the 
general public of serious, pervasive violations of law and constitutional rights committed by 
agents of the government. The letter asked whether the Department of Justice intended to 
bring charges against me and whether, should I seek to enter the United States, "the 
Department of Justice, the Department of Homeland Security, or any other office of the 
federal government intends to detain, question, arrest or prosecute" me. But as Grayson's 
hometown paper, the Orlando Sentinel, reported in December, Grayson never received a 
response to his letter. 

At the end of 2013 and into the beginning of 2014, the threat of prosecution only 
increased as government officials kept up a clearly coordinated attack designed to 
criminalize my work. In late October, NSA chief Keith Alexander, in an obvious reference to 
my freelance reporting around the world, complained "that newspaper reporters have all 
these documents, the 50,000 — whatever they have and are selling," and he chillingly 
demanded that "we" — the government — "ought to come up with a way of stopping it." 
House Intelligence Committee chairman Mike Rogers, at a hearing in January, repeatedly 
told FBI director James Comey that some of the journalists were "selling stolen property," 
making them "fences" or "thieves," and he then specified that he was talking about me. 
When I began reporting on Canadian spying with the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, 
the parliamentary spokesman for Stephen Harper's right-wing government denounced me as 
a "porno-spy" and accused the CBC of buying stolen documents from me. In the United 
States, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper started using the criminal term 
"accomplices" to refer to journalists covering the NSA. 

I believed that the probability of arrest upon my return to the United States was less 

than 50 percent, if only for reasons of image and worldwide controversy. The potential stain 
on Obama's legacy, as the first president to prosecute a journalist for doing journalism, was, 
I assumed, sufficient constraint. But if the recent past proved anything, it was that the US 
government was willing to do all sorts of reprehensible things under the guise of national 
security, without regard to how the rest of the world perceived them. The consequences of 
guessing wrong — ending up in handcuffs and charged under espionage laws, to be 
adjudicated by a federal judiciary that had proved itself shamelessly deferential to 
Washington in such matters — were too significant to blithely dismiss. I was determined to 
return to the United States, but only once I had a clearer understanding of the risk. Meanwhile, 
my family, friends, and all sorts of important opportunities to talk in the United States about 
the work I was doing were out of reach. 

That lawyers and a congressman considered the risk real was itself extraordinary, a 
powerful measure of the erosion of press freedom. And that journalists had joined the call to 
treat my reporting as a felony was a remarkable triumph of propaganda for the powers of 
government, which could rely on trained professionals to do their work for them and equate 

adversarial investigative journalism with a crime. 

* * * 

The attacks on Snowden were of course far more virulent. They were also bizarrely 
identical in theme. Leading commentators who knew nothing at all about Snowden instantly 
adopted the same script of cliches to demean him. Within hours of learning his name, they 
marched in lockstep to malign his character and motives. He was driven, they intoned, not by 
any actual conviction but by "fame-seeking narcissism." 

CBS News host Bob Schieffer denounced Snowden as a "narcissistic young man" 
who thinks "he is smarter than the rest of us." The New Yorker's Jeffrey Toobin diagnosed 
him as "a grandiose narcissist who deserves to be in prison." The Washington Post's Richard 
Cohen pronounced that Snowden "is not paranoiac; he is merely narcissistic," referring to the 
report that Snowden covered himself with a blanket to prevent his passwords being captured 
by overhead cameras. Cohen added, bizarrely, that Snowden "will go down as a 
cross-dressing Little Red Riding Hood" and that his supposed desire for fame will be 

These characterizations were patently ridiculous. Snowden was determined to 
disappear from sight, as he said, to do no interviews. He understood that the media love to 
personalize every story, and he wanted to keep the focus on NSA surveillance, not on him. 
True to his word, Snowden refused all media invitations. On a daily basis, for many months, 
I received calls and emails from almost every US television program, TV news personality, 
and famous journalist, pleading for a chance to talk with Snowden. Today show host Matt 
Lauer called several times to make his pitch; 60 Minutes was so relentless in their requests 
that I stopped taking their calls; Brian Williams dispatched several different representatives 
to make his case. Snowden could have spent all day and night on the most influential 
television shows, with the world watching him, had he wanted to do that. 

But he was unmovable. I conveyed the requests and he declined them, to avoid taking 
attention away from the revelations. Strange behavior for a fame-seeking narcissist. 

Other denunciations of Snowden' s personality followed. New York Times columnist 
David Brooks mocked him on the grounds that "he could not successfully work his way 
through community college." Snowden is, Brooks decreed, "the ultimate unmediated man," 
symbolic of "the rising tide of distrust, the corrosive spread of cynicism, the fraying of the 

social fabric and the rise of people who are so individualistic in their outlook that they have 
no real understanding of how to knit others together and look after the common good." 

To Politico's Roger Simon, Snowden was "a loser" because he "dropped out of high 
school." Democratic congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz, who also serves as chair 
of the Democratic National Committee, condemned Snowden, who had just ruined his life to 
make the NSA disclosures, as "a coward." 

Inevitably, Snowden' s patriotism was called into question. Because he had gone to 
Hong Kong, assertions were made that he was likely working as a spy for the Chinese 
government. It's "not hard to image that Snowden has been a Chinese double agent and will 
soon defect," announced veteran GOP campaign consultant Matt Mackowiak. 

But when Snowden left Hong Kong to travel to Latin America via Russia, the 
accusation seamlessly switched from Chinese to Russian spy. People like Congressman 
Mike Rogers made this charge with no evidence at all, and despite the obvious fact that 
Snowden was only in Russia because the United States had revoked his passport and then 
bullied countries such as Cuba into rescinding their promise of safe passage. Moreover, what 
kind of Russian spy would go to Hong Kong, or work with journalists and identify himself 
publicly, rather than passing on his stash to his bosses in Moscow? The claim never made any 
sense and was based on not a particle of fact, but that was no deterrent to it spreading. 

Among the most reckless and baseless innuendos spread against Snowden came from 
the New York Times, which claimed that he had been allowed to leave Hong Kong by the 
Chinese government, not Hong Kong authorities, and then added a rank and damaging 
speculation: "Two Western intelligence experts, who worked for major government spy 
agencies, said they believed that the Chinese government had managed to drain the contents 
of the four laptops that Mr. Snowden said he brought to Hong Kong." 

The New York Times had no evidence at all that the Chinese government had been 
able to obtain Snowden' s NSA data. The paper simply led readers to conclude that it had, 
based on two anonymous "experts" who "believed" it may have happened. 

At the time this story ran, Snowden was stuck at the Moscow airport and unable to go 
online. As soon as he resurfaced, he vehemently denied, via an article I published in the 
Guardian, that he had passed any data to China or Russia. "I never gave any information to 
either government, and they never took anything from my laptops," he said. 

The day after Snowden' s denial ran, Margaret Sullivan criticized the Times for its 
article. She interviewed Joseph Kahn, the paper's foreign editor, who said that "it's important 
to see this passage in the story for what it is: an exploration of what might have happened, 
based on experts who did not claim to have direct knowledge." Sullivan commented that 
"two sentences in the middle of a Times article on such a sensitive subject — though they may 
be off the central point — have the power to sway the discussion or damage a reputation." She 
concluded by agreeing with a reader who had complained about the story, saying: "I read the 
Times for the truth. I can read publication of speculation almost anywhere." 

Via Janine Gibson, Times executive editor Jill Abramson — at a meeting to convince 
the Guardian to collaborate on certain NSA stories — sent a message: "Please tell Glenn 
Greenwald personally that I agree with him completely about the fact that we should never 
have run that claim about China 'draining' Snowden' s laptops. It was irresponsible." 

Gibson seemed to expect that I would be pleased, though I was anything but: How 
could an executive editor of a newspaper conclude that an obviously damaging article was 
irresponsible and should not have been published, and then not retract it or at least run an 
editor's note? 

Aside from the lack of evidence, the claim that Snowden's laptops had been 
"drained" made no sense on its own terms. People haven't used laptops to transport large 
amounts of data in years. Even before laptops became common, quantities of documents 
would have been stored on discs; now on thumb drives. It is true that Snowden had four 
laptops with him in Hong Kong, each one serving a different security purpose, but these had 
no relation to the quantity of documents he carried. They were on thumb drives, which were 
encrypted through sophisticated cryptographic methods. Having worked as an NSA hacker, 
Snowden knew that they could not be cracked by the NSA, let alone by Chinese or Russian 
intelligence agencies. 

Touting the number of Snowden's laptops was a deeply misleading way to play on 
people's ignorance and fears — he took so many documents, he needed four laptops to store 
them all! And had the Chinese somehow drained their contents, they would have obtained 
nothing of value. 

Equally nonsensical was the notion that Snowden would try to save himself by giving 
away surveillance secrets. He had dismantled his life and risked a future in prison to tell the 
world about a clandestine surveillance system he believed must be stopped. That he would 
reverse himself by helping China or Russia to improve their surveillance capabilities, all to 
avoid prison, was just inane. 

The claim might have been nonsense, but the damage was as substantial as it was 
predictable. Any TV discussion of the NSA invariably involved someone asserting, with no 
contradiction, that China was now in possession, via Snowden, of the United States' most 
sensitive secrets. Under the headline "Why China Let Snowden Go," the New Yorker told its 
readers, "His usefulness was almost exhausted. Intelligence experts cited by the Times 
believed that the Chinese government 'had managed to drain the contents of the four laptops 
that Mr. Snowden said he brought to Hong Kong.'" 

Demonizing the personality of anyone who challenges political power has been a 
long-standing tactic used by Washington, including by the media. One of the first and 
perhaps most glaring examples of that tactic was the Nixon administration's treatment of 
Pentagon Papers whistle-blower Daniel Ellsberg, which included breaking into the office of 
Ellsberg's psychoanalyst to steal Ellsberg' s files and pry into his sexual history. As 
nonsensical as the tactic might seem — why would exposure of embarrassing personal 
information counter evidence of government deceit? — Ellsberg understood it clearly: people 
do not want to be associated with someone who has been discredited or publicly humiliated. 

The same tactic was used to damage Julian Assange's reputation well before he was 
accused of sex crimes by two women in Sweden. Notably, the attacks on Assange were 
carried out by the same newspapers that had worked with him and had benefited from 
Chelsea Manning's disclosures, which Assange and WikiLeaks had enabled. 

When the New York Times published what it called "The Iraq War Logs," thousands 
of classified documents detailing atrocities and other abuses during the war by the US 
military and its Iraqi allies, the paper featured a front-page article — as prominently as the 
disclosures themselves — by pro-war reporter John Burns that had no purpose other than to 
depict Assange as bizarre and paranoid, with little grip on reality. 

The article described how Assange "checks into hotels under false names, dyes his 
hair, sleeps on sofas and floors, and uses cash instead of credit cards, often borrowed from 
friends." It noted what it called his "erratic and imperious behavior" and "delusional 
grandeur," and said his detractors "accuse him of pursuing a vendetta against the United 
States." And it added this psychological diagnosis from a disgruntled WikiLeaks volunteer: 

"He is not in his right mind." 

Casting Assange as crazy and delusional became a staple of US political discourse 
generally and the New York Times' 's tactics specifically. In one article, Bill Keller quoted a 
Times reporter who described Assange as "disheveled, like a bag lady walking in off the 
street, wearing a dingy, light-colored sport coat and cargo pants, dirty white shirt, beat-up 
sneakers and filthy white socks that collapsed around his ankles. He smelled as if he hadn't 
bathed in days." 

The Times also led the way on the Manning coverage, insisting that what drove 
Manning to become a massive whistle-blower was not conviction or conscience but 
personality disorders and psychological instability. Numerous articles speculated, with no 
basis, that everything from gender struggles to anti-gay bullying in the army to conflicts with 
Manning's father were the prime motives in the decision to disclose such important 

Attributing dissent to personality disorders is hardly an American invention. Soviet 
dissidents were routinely institutionalized in psychological hospitals, and Chinese dissidents 
are still often forcibly treated for mental illness. There are obvious reasons for launching 
personal attacks on critics of the status quo. As noted, one is to render the critic less effective: 
few people want to align themselves with someone crazy or weird. Another is deterrence: 
when dissidents are cast out of society and demeaned as emotionally imbalanced, others are 
given a strong incentive not to become one. 

But the key motive is logical necessity. For guardians of the status quo, there is 
nothing genuinely or fundamentally wrong with the prevailing order and its dominant 
institutions, which are viewed as just. Therefore, anyone claiming otherwise — especially 
someone sufficiently motivated by that belief to take radical action — must, by definition, be 
emotionally unstable and psychologically disabled. 

Put another way, there are, broadly speaking, two choices: obedience to institutional 
authority or radical dissent from it. The first is a sane and valid choice only if the second is 
crazy and illegitimate. For defenders of the status quo, mere correlation between mental 
illness and radical opposition to prevailing orthodoxy is insufficient. Radical dissent is 
evidence, even proof, of a severe personality disorder. 

At the heart of this formulation is an essential deceit: that dissent from institutional 
authority involves a moral or ideological choice, while obedience does not. With that false 
premise in place, society pays great attention to the motives of dissenters, but none to those 
who submit to our institutions, either by ensuring that their actions remain concealed or by 
using any other means. Obedience to authority is implicitly deemed the natural state. 

In fact, both observing and breaking the rules involve moral choices, and both courses 
of action reveal something important about the individual involved. Contrary to the accepted 
premise — that radical dissent demonstrates a personality disorder — the opposite could be 
true: in the face of severe injustice, a refusal to dissent is the sign of a character flaw or moral 

Philosophy professor Peter Ludlow, writing in the New York Times about what he 
calls "the leaking, whistle-blowing and hacktivism that has vexed the United States military 
and the private and government intelligence communities" — activities associated with a 
group he calls "Generation W," with Snowden and Manning as leading examples — makes 
exactly this point: 

The media's desire to psychoanalyze members of generation W is natural enough. They want 
to know why these people are acting in a way that they, members of the corporate media, 

would not. But sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander; if there are psychological 
motivations for whistleblowing, leaking and hacktivism, there are likewise psychological 
motivations for closing ranks with the power structure within a system — in this case a system 
in which corporate media plays an important role.Similarly it is possible that the system itself 
is sick, even though the actors within the organization are behaving in accord with 
organizational etiquette and respecting the internal bonds of trust. That discussion is one 
the institutional authorities are most eager to avoid. This reflexive demonization of 
whistle-blowers is one way that the establishment media in the United States protects the 
interests of those who wield power. So profound is this subservience that many of the rules of 
journalism are crafted, or at least applied, so as to promote the government's message. 

Take, for instance, the notion that leaking classified information is some sort of 
malicious or criminal act. In fact, the Washington journalists who applied that view to 
Snowden or to me do not deplore all disclosures of secret information, only those disclosures 
that displease or undermine the government. 

The reality is that Washington is always drowning in leaks. The most celebrated and 
revered DC reporters, such as Bob Woodward, have secured their position by routinely 
receiving classified information from high-level sources and then publishing it. Obama 
officials have repeatedly gone to the New York Times to dish out classified information about 
topics like drone killings and Osama bin Laden' s assassination. Former secretary of defense 
Leon Panetta and CIA officials fed secret information to the director of Zero Dark Thirty, 
hoping the film would trumpet Obama' s greatest political triumph. (At the same time Justice 
Department lawyers told federal courts that, to protect national security, they could not 
release information about the bin Laden raid.) 

No establishment journalist would propose prosecution for any of the officials 
responsible for those leaks or for the reporters who received and then wrote about them. They 
would laugh at the suggestion that Bob Woodward, who has been spilling top secrets for 
years, and his high-level government sources are criminals. 

That is because those leaks are sanctioned by Washington and serve the interests of 
the US government, and are thus considered appropriate and acceptable. The only leaks that 
the Washington media condemns are those that contain information officials would prefer to 

Consider what happened just moments before David Gregory suggested on Meet the 
Press that I be arrested for my reporting on the NSA. At the start of the interview, I referred 
to a top secret judicial ruling issued in 201 1 by the FISA court that deemed substantial parts 
of the NSA's domestic surveillance program unconstitutional and in violation of statutes 
regulating spying. I only knew about the ruling because I had read about it in the NSA 
documents Snowden had given me. On Meet the Press, I had called for its release to the 

However, Gregory sought to argue that the FISA opinion had decided differently: 
With regard to that specific FISA opinion, isn't it the case, based on people that I've talked to, 
that the FISA opinion based on the government's request is that they said, "well, you can get 
this but you can't get that. That would actually go beyond the scope of what you're allowed 
to do" — which means that the request was changed or denied, which is the whole point the 
government makes, which is that there is actual judicial review here and not abuse. 

The point here is not the specifics of the FISA court opinion (although when it was 
released, eight weeks later, it became clear that the ruling did indeed conclude that the NSA 
had acted illegally). More important is that Gregory claimed that he knew about the ruling 

because his sources had told him about it, and he then broadcast the information to the world. 

Thus moments before Gregory raised the specter of arrest for my reporting, he 
himself leaked what he thought was top secret information from government sources. But 
nobody would ever suggest that Gregory's work should be criminalized. Applying the same 
rationale to the host of Meet the Press and his source would be considered ludicrous. 

Indeed, Gregory would likely be incapable of understanding that his disclosure and 
mine were even comparable, since his came at the behest of a government seeking to defend 
and justify its actions, while mine was done adversarially, against the wishes of officialdom. 

This, of course, is precisely the opposite of what press freedoms were supposed to 
achieve. The idea of a "fourth estate" is that those who exercise the greatest power need to be 
challenged by adversarial pushback and an insistence on transparency; the job of the press is 
to disprove the falsehoods that power invariably disseminates to protect itself. Without that 
type of journalism, abuse is inevitable. Nobody needed the US Constitution to guarantee 
press freedom so that journalists could befriend, amplify, and glorify political leaders; the 
guarantee was necessary so that journalists could do the opposite. 

The double standard applied to publishing classified information is even more 
pronounced when it comes to the unwritten requirement of "journalistic objectivity." It was 
the supposed violation of this rule that made me an "activist" rather than a "journalist." As 
we are told endlessly, journalists do not express opinions; they simply report the facts. 

This is an obvious pretense, a conceit of the profession. The perceptions and 
pronouncements of human beings are inherently subjective. Every news article is the product 
of all sorts of highly subjective cultural, nationalistic, and political assumptions. And all 
journalism serves one faction's interest or another's. 

The relevant distinction is not between journalists who have opinions and those who 
have none, a category that does not exist. It is between journalists who candidly reveal their 
opinions and those who conceal them, pretending they have none. 

The very idea that reporters should be free of opinions is far from some time-honored 
requirement of the profession; in fact, it is a relatively new concoction that has the effect, if 
not the intent, to neuter journalism. 

This recent American view reflects, as Jack Shafer, Reuters' s media columnist, 
observed, a "sad devotion to the corporatist ideal of what journalism" should be, as well as "a 
painful lack of historical understanding." From the United States' founding, the best and 
most consequential journalism frequently involved crusading reporters, advocacy, and 
devotion to battling injustice. The opinion-less, color-less, soul-less template of corporate 
journalism has drained the practice of its most worthy attributes, rendering establishment 
media inconsequential: a threat to nobody powerful, exactly as intended. 

But aside from the inherent fallacy of objective reporting, the rule is almost never 
consistently applied by those who claim to believe it. Establishment journalists constantly 
express their opinions on a whole range of controversial issues without being denied their 
professional status. But if the opinions they offer are sanctioned by Washington officialdom, 
they are thus perceived as legitimate. 

Throughout the controversy over the NSA, Face the Nation host Bob Schieffer 
denounced Snowden and defended NSA surveillance, as did Jeffrey Toobin, legal 
correspondent for the New Yorker and CNN. John Burns, the New York Times' 's 
correspondent who covered the Iraq War, admitted after the fact that he supported the 
invasion, even describing the US troops as "my liberators" and "ministering angels." CNN's 
Christiane Amanpour spent the summer of 2013 advocating for the use of American military 

force in Syria. Yet these positions were not condemned as "activism" because, for all the 
reverence of objectivity, there is in fact no prohibition on journalists having opinions. 

Just like the supposed rule against leaking, the "rule" of objectivity is no rule at all but 
rather a means of promoting the interests of the dominant political class. Hence, "NSA 
surveillance is legal and necessary" or "the Iraq War is right" or "the United States should 
invade that country" are acceptable opinions for journalists to express, and they do so all the 

"Objectivity" means nothing more than reflecting the biases and serving the interests 
of entrenched Washington. Opinions are problematic only when they deviate from the 
acceptable range of Washington orthodoxy. 

The hostility toward Snowden was not hard to explain. The hostility toward the 
reporter breaking the story — myself — is perhaps more complex. Part competitiveness and 
part payback for the years of professional criticism I had directed at US media stars, there 
was, I believe, also anger and even shame over the truth that adversarial journalism had 
exposed: reporting that angers the government reveals the real role of so many mainstream 
journalists, which is to amplify power. 

But far and away, the most significant reason for the hostility was that establishment 
media figures have accepted the rule of dutiful spokespeople for political officials, especially 
where national security is concerned. It follows, then, that like the officials themselves, they 
are contemptuous of those who challenge or undermine Washington's centers of power. 

The iconic reporter of the past was the definitive outsider. Many who entered the 
profession were inclined to oppose rather than serve power, not just by ideology but by 
personality and disposition. Choosing a career in journalism virtually ensured outsider status: 
reporters made little money, had little institutional prestige, and were typically obscure. 

That has now changed. With the acquisition of media companies by the world's 
largest corporations, most media stars are highly paid employees of conglomerates, no 
different than other such employees. Instead of selling banking services or financial 
instruments, they peddle media products to the public on behalf of that corporation. Their 
career path is determined by the same metrics that amount to success in such an environment: 
the extent to which they please their corporate bosses and advance the company's interests. 

Those who thrive within the structure of large corporations tend to be adept at 
pleasing rather than subverting institutional power. It follows that those who succeed in 
corporate journalism are suited to accommodate power. They identify with institutional 
authority and are skilled at serving, not combating it. 

The evidence is abundant. We know about the New York Times'^ willingness to 
suppress, at the White House's behest, James Risen' s discovery of the NSA's illegal 
wiretapping program in 2004; the paper's public editor at the time described the paper's 
excuses for suppression as "woefully inadequate." In a similar incident at the Los Angeles 
Times, editor Dean Baquet killed a story in 2006 by his reporters about a secret collaboration 
between AT&T and the NSA, based on information given by whistle-blower Mark Klein. He 
had come forward with reams of documents to reveal AT&T's construction of a secret room 
in its San Francisco office, where the NSA was able to install splitters to divert telephone and 
Internet traffic from the telecom's customers into agency repositories. 

As Klein put it, the documents showed that the NSA was "trolling through the 
personal lives of millions of innocent Americans." But Baquet blocked publication of the 
story, Klein recounted to ABC News in 2007, "at the request of then-Director of National 
Intelligence John Negroponte and then-director of the NSA Gen. Michael Hayden." Shortly 

thereafter, Baquet became Washington chief for the New York Times and was then promoted 
to the position of that paper's managing editor. 

That the Times would advance so willing a servant of government interests should 
come as no surprise. Its public editor, Margaret Sullivan, noted that the Times might want to 
take a look in the mirror if its editors wanted to understand why sources revealing major 
national security stories, like Chelsea Manning and Edward Snowden, did not feel safe or 
motivated to bring them their information. It is true that the New York Times published large 
troves of documents in partnership with WikiLeaks, but soon after, former executive editor 
Bill Keller took pains to distance the paper from its partner: he publicly contrasted the 
Obama administration's anger toward WikiLeaks with its appreciation of the Times and its 
"responsible" reporting. 

Keller proudly trumpeted his paper's relationship with Washington on other 
occasions, too. During a 2010 appearance on the BBC discussing telegrams obtained by 
WikiLeaks, Keller explained that the Times takes direction from the US government about 
what it should and shouldn't publish. The BBC host asked incredulously, "Are you saying 
that you sort of go to the government in advance and say: 'What about this, that and the other, 
is it all right to do this and all right to do that,' and you get clearance, then?" The other guest, 
former British diplomat Carne Ross, said that Keller's comments made him think one 
shouldn't go to the New York Times for these telegrams. It's extraordinary that the New York 
Times is clearing what it says about this with the U.S. Government." 

But there's nothing extraordinary about this kind of media collaboration with 
Washington. It is routine, for example, for reporters to adopt the official US position in 
disputes with foreign adversaries and to make editorial decisions based on what best 
promotes "US interests" as defined by the government. Bush DOJ lawyer Jack Goldsmith 
hailed what he called "an underappreciated phenomenon: the patriotism of the American 
press," meaning that the domestic media tend to show loyalty to their government's agenda. 
He quoted Bush CIA and NSA director Michael Hayden, who noted that American 
journalists display "a willingness to work with us," but with the foreign press, he added, "it's 
very, very difficult." 

This identification of the establishment media with the government is cemented by 
various factors, one of them being socioeconomic. Many of the influential journalists in the 
United States are now multimillionaires. They live in the same neighborhoods as the political 
figures and financial elites over which they ostensibly serve as watchdogs. They attend the 
same functions, they have the same circles of friends and associates, their children go to the 
same elite private schools. 

This is one reason why journalists and government officials can switch jobs so 
seamlessly. The revolving door moves the media figures into high-level Washington jobs, 
just as government officials often leave office to the reward of a lucrative media contract. 
Time magazine's Jay Carney and Richard Stengel are now in government while Obama aides 
David Axelrod and Robert Gibbs are commentators on MSNBC. These are lateral transfers 
far more than career changes: the switch is so streamlined precisely because the personnel 
still serve the same interests. 

US establishment journalism is anything but an outsider force. It is wholly integrated 
into the nation's dominant political power. Culturally, emotionally, and socioeconomically, 
they are one and the same. Rich, famous, insider journalists do not want to subvert the status 
quo that so lavishly rewards them. Like all courtiers, they are eager to defend the system that 
vests them with their privileges and contemptuous of anyone who challenges that system. 

It is but a short step to full identification with the needs of political officials. Hence, 
transparency is bad; adversarial journalism is malignant, possibly even criminal. Political 
leaders must be permitted to exercise power in the dark. 

In September 2013, these points were powerfully made by Seymour Hersh, the 
Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter who uncovered both the My Lai massacre and the Abu 
Ghraib scandal. In an interview with the Guardian, Hersh railed against what he called "the 
timidity of journalists in America, their failure to challenge the White House and be an 
unpopular messenger of truth." He said the New York Times spends so much time "carrying 
water for Obama." The administration lies systematically, he argued, "yet none of the 
leviathans of American media, the TV networks or big print titles" pose a challenge. 

Hersh' s proposal "on how to fix journalism" was to "close down the news bureaus of 
NBC and ABC, sack 90 percent of editors in publishing and get back to the fundamental job 
of journalists," which is to be an outsider. "Start promoting editors that you can't control," 
Hersh advocated. "The troublemakers don't get promoted," he said. Instead, "chickenshit 
editors" and journalists are ruining the profession because the overarching mentality is not to 
dare to be an outsider. 

* * * 

Once reporters are branded as activists, once their work is tainted by the accusation of 
criminal activity and they are cast out of the circle of protections for journalists, they are 
vulnerable to criminal treatment. This was made clear to me very quickly after the NS A story 

Within minutes of my return home to Rio after my stay in Hong Kong, David told me 
that his laptop had vanished. Suspecting that its disappearance was connected to a 
conversation we had while I was away, he reminded me that I had called him on Skype to talk 
about a large encrypted file of documents I intended to send electronically. Once it arrived, 
I'd said, he should put the file somewhere safe. Snowden had considered it vital that someone 
I trusted without question should have a complete set of the documents, in case my own 
archive was lost, damaged, or stolen. 

"I may not be available for much longer," he said. "And you never know how your 
working relationship with Laura will proceed. Someone should have a set so that you'll 
always have access, no matter what happens." 

The obvious choice was David. But I never did send the file. It was one of the things 
I lacked the time to do while in Hong Kong. 

"Less than forty-eight hours after you told me that," David said, "my laptop was 
stolen from the house." 

I resisted the idea that the theft of the laptop was connected to our Skype conversation. 
I told David I was determined that we not become those paranoid people who attribute every 
unexplained event in their lives to the CIA. Maybe the laptop was lost or someone visiting 
the house had taken it, or maybe it had been stolen in an unconnected robbery. 

David shot down my theories one by one: he never took that laptop out of the house; 
he had turned the place upside down and it was nowhere to be found; nothing else had been 
taken or disturbed. I was being irrational, he felt, by refusing to entertain what seemed like 
the only explanation. 

By this point, a number of reporters had noted that the NSA had virtually no idea 
what Snowden had taken or given me, not just the specific documents but also the quantity. It 
made sense that the US government (or perhaps even other governments) would be desperate 

to learn what I had. If taking David's computer would give up the information, why wouldn't 
they steal it? 

By then, I also knew that a conversation with David via Skype was anything but 
secure, as vulnerable to NSA monitoring as any other form of communication. So the 
government had the ability to hear that I planned to send the documents to David, which gave 
them a strong motive to get hold of his laptop. 

I learned from David Schultz, the Guardian's media lawyer, that there was reason to 
believe David's theory of the theft. Contacts in the US intelligence community had let him 
know that the CIA's presence was more robust in Rio than almost anywhere else in the world 
and that the Rio station chief was "notoriously aggressive." Based on that, Schultz told me, 
"You should pretty much assume that everything you say, everything you do, and 
everywhere you go are being closely monitored." 

I accepted that my ability to communicate would now be severely restricted. I 
refrained from using the telephone for anything but the vaguest and most trivial 
conversations. I sent and received emails only through cumbersome encryption systems. I 
confined my discussions with Laura, Snowden, and various sources to encrypted online chat 
programs. I was able to work on articles with Guardian editors and other journalists only by 
having them travel to Rio to meet face-to-face. I even exercised caution speaking to David in 
our home or car. The theft of the laptop had made clear the possibility that even those most 
intimate spaces might be under surveillance. 

If I needed more evidence of the threatening climate in which I was now working, it 
came in the form of a report about a conversation overheard by Steve Clemons, a 
well-connected and regarded DC policy analyst and editor at large for the Atlantic. 

On June 8, Clemons had been in Dulles airport in the United Airlines lounge and 
recounted that he overheard four US intelligence officials saying loudly that the leaker and 
reporter on the NSA stuff should be "disappeared." He said that he recorded a bit of the 
conversation on his phone. Clemons thought the talk seemed like just "bravado" but decided 
to publish the conversation nonetheless. 

I didn't take the report too seriously, although Clemons is quite credible. But just the 
fact of such idle public chitchat among establishment types about "disappearing" 
Snowden — and the journalists with whom he was working — was alarming. 

In the months that followed, the possible criminalization of the NSA reporting shifted 
from an abstract idea to reality. This drastic change was driven by the British government. 

I first heard from Janine Gibson, via encrypted chat, about a remarkable event that 
had taken place at the Guardian's London office in mid- July. She described what she called a 
"radical change" in the tenor of the conversations between the Guardian and the GCHQ that 
had occurred in the past few weeks. What had originally been "very civilized conversations" 
about the paper's reporting had degenerated into a series of increasingly bellicose demands 
and then outright threats from the British spying agency. 

Then, more or less suddenly, Gibson told me, the GCHQ announced that it would no 
longer "permit" the paper to keep publishing stories based on top secret documents. They 
demanded that the Guardian in London hand over all copies of the files received from 
Snowden. If the Guardian refused, a court order would prohibit any further reporting. 

That threat was not idle. The UK has no constitutional guarantee of press freedoms. 
British courts are so deferential to government demands of "prior restraint" that the media 
can be barred in advance from reporting anything claimed to threaten national security. 

Indeed, in the 1970s, the reporter who first uncovered and then reported on the 

existence of the GCHQ, Duncan Campbell, was arrested and prosecuted. In the UK the 
courts could shut the Guardian down at any point and seize all its material and equipment. 
"No judge would say no if they were asked," Janine said. "We know that and they know we 
know it." 

The documents the Guardian possessed were a fraction of the full archive Snowden 
had passed on in Hong Kong. He had felt strongly that reporting relating specifically to the 
GCHQ should be done by British journalists, and on one of the last days in Hong Kong, he 
gave a copy of those documents to Ewen MacAskill. 

On our call, Janine told me that she and editor Alan Rusbridger, along with other 
staffers, had been on a retreat the previous weekend in a remote area outside of London. They 
suddenly heard that GCHQ officials were on their way to the Guardian newsroom in London 
where they intended to seize the hard drives on which the documents were stored. "You've 
had your fun," they told Rusbridger, as he later recounted, "now we want the stuff back." The 
group had been in the country for only two and a half hours before they heard from the 
GCHQ. "We had to drive straight back to London to defend the building. It was very hairy," 
Janine said. 

The GCHQ demanded that the Guardian turn over all copies of the archive. Had the 
paper complied, the government would have learned what Snowden had passed on and his 
legal standing could have been further jeopardized. Instead, the Guardian agreed to destroy 
all the relevant hard drives with GCHQ officials overseeing the process to make sure that the 
destruction was done to their satisfaction. What occurred was, in Janine' s words, "a very 
elaborate dance of stalling, diplomacy, smuggling, and then cooperative 'demonstrable 

The term "demonstrable destruction" was newly invented by the GCHQ to describe 
what took place. The officials accompanied Guardian staff, including the editor in chief, to 
the basement of the newsroom and watched as they smashed the hard drives to pieces, even 
demanding that they break particular parts further "just to be sure there was nothing in the 
mangled bits of metal that could possibly be of any interest to passing Chinese agents," 
Rusbridger recounted. "We can call off the black helicopters," he recalled a security expert 
joking, as Guardian staff "swept up the remains of a MacBook Pro." 

The image of a government sending agents into a newspaper to force destruction of 
its computers is inherently shocking, the sort of thing Westerners are told to believe happens 
only in places like China, Iran, and Russia. But it is also stunning that a revered newspaper 
would voluntarily, meekly, submit to such orders. 

If the government was threatening to shut down the paper, why not call its bluff and 
force the threat out into the daylight? As Snowden said when he heard the about the threat, 
"the only right answer is, go ahead, shut us down!" Voluntarily complying in secret is to 
enable the government to conceal its true character from the world: a state that thuggishly 
stops journalists from reporting on one of the most significant stories in the public interest. 

Worse, the act of destroying the materials that a source had risked his liberty and even 
life to reveal was utterly antithetical to the purpose of journalism. 

Aside from the need to expose such despotic behavior, it is unquestionably 
newsworthy when a government marches into a newsroom and forces a paper to destroy its 
information. But the Guardian apparently intended to remain silent, powerfully underscoring 
how precarious any freedom of the press is in the UK. 

In any case, Gibson assured me that the Guardian still had a copy of the archive in its 
New York office. Then she told me some startling news: another set of those documents was 

now with the New York Times, given by Alan Rusbridger to executive editor Jill Abramson, 
to ensure that the paper would still have access to the files even if a British court tried to force 
the Guardian US to destroy its copy. 

This, too, was not good news. Not only had the Guardian agreed, in secret, to destroy 
its own documents but, without consulting or even advising Snowden or me, it had given 
them to the very newspaper Snowden had excluded because he did not trust its close and 
subservient relationship to the US government. 

From the Guardian's perspective, it could not afford to be cavalier in the face of UK 
government threats, given the absence of constitutional protection and hundreds of 
employees and a century-old paper to protect. And destroying the computers was better than 
handing GCHQ the archive. But I was nonetheless disturbed by their compliance with the 
government's demands and, more so, their evident decision not to report it. 

Still, both before the destruction of its hard drives and after, the Guardian remained 
aggressive and intrepid in how it published Snowden' s revelations — more, I believe, than 
any other paper comparable in size and stature would have been. Despite the authorities' 
intimidation tactics, which only intensified, the editors continued to publish one NSA and 
GCHQ story after the next, and they deserve much credit for doing so. 

But Laura and Snowden were both quite angry — that the Guardian would submit to 
such government bullying and that they would then keep quiet about what had happened. 
Snowden was particularly furious that the GCHQ archive had ended up with the New York 
Times. He felt that this was a breach of his agreement with the Guardian and of his wish that 
only British journalists would work on the British documents, and especially that the New 
York Times would not be given documents. As it turned out, Laura's reaction eventually led 
to dramatic consequences. 

* * * 

From the beginning of our reporting, Laura's relationship with the Guardian was 
uneasy and now the tension broke out into the open. While working together for a week in 
Rio, Laura and I discovered that part of one of the NSA archives Snowden had given me on 
the day he went into hiding in Hong Kong (but hadn't had the chance to give to Laura) was 
corrupted. Laura was unable to fix it in Rio but thought she might be able to do so when back 
in Berlin. 

A week later, after she returned to Berlin, Laura let me know that the archive was 
ready to return to me. We arranged for a Guardian employee to fly to Berlin, pick up the 
archive, and then bring it to me in Rio. But clearly in a state of fear after the GCHQ drama, 
the Guardian employee then told Laura that instead of giving the archive to him personally, 
she should FedEx it to me. 

This made Laura as agitated and furious as I had ever seen her. "Don't you see what 
they're doing?" she asked me. "They want to be able to say, 'We had nothing to do with 
transporting these documents, it was Glenn and Laura who passed them back and forth.'" She 
added that using FedEx to send top secret documents across the world — and to send them 
from her in Berlin to me in Rio, a neon sign to interested parties — was as severe a breach of 
operational security as she could imagine. 

"I will never trust them again," she declared. 

But I still needed that archive. It contained vital documents related to stories I was 
working on, as well as many others still to be published. 

Janine insisted that the problem was a misunderstanding, that the staffer had 

misinterpreted comments by his supervisor, that some managers in London were now skittish 
about carrying documents between Laura and me. There was no problem, she said. Someone 
from the Guardian would fly to Berlin to pick up the archive that same day. 

It was too late. "I will never, ever give these documents to the Guardian," Laura said. 
"I just don't trust them now." 

The size and sensitivity of the archive made Laura unwilling to send it electronically. 
It had to be delivered personally, by someone she trusted. That someone was David, who, 
when he heard about the problem, immediately volunteered to go to Berlin. We both saw that 
this was the perfect solution. David understood every part of the story, Laura knew and 
trusted him, and he had been planning to visit her anyway to talk about potential new projects. 
Janine happily signed on to the idea and agreed that the Guardian would cover the cost of 
David's trip. 

The Guardian's travel office booked David's flights on British Airways and then 
emailed him the itinerary. The notion that he would have any problem traveling never 
occurred to us. Guardian journalists who had written stories about the Snowden archives, as 
well as staffers who had couriered documents back and forth, had flown in and out of 
Heathrow Airport multiple times without incident. Laura herself had flown to London only a 
few weeks earlier. Why would anyone think that David — a far more peripheral 
figure — would be at risk? 

David left for Berlin on Sunday, August 11, due to return a week later with the 
archive from Laura. But on the morning of his expected arrival, I was woken up early by a 
call. The voice on the line, speaking with a thick British accent, identified himself as a 
"security agent at Heathrow Airport" and asked whether I knew David Miranda. "We're 
calling to inform you," he went on, "that we've detained Mr. Miranda under the Terrorism 
Act of 2000, Schedule 7." 

The word "terrorism" did not sink in right away — I was more confused than anything 
else. The first question I asked was how long he had been detained at that point, and when I 
heard that it had been three hours already, I knew that this was no standard immigration 
screening. The man explained that the UK had the "legal right" to hold him for a total of nine 
hours, at which point a court could extend the time. Or they could arrest him. "We don't yet 
know what we intend to do," the security agent said. 

Both the United States and the United Kingdom have made clear that there are no 
limits — ethical, legal, or political — that they will observe when they claim to be acting in the 
name of "terrorism." Now David was in custody, being held under a terrorism law. He hadn't 
even tried to enter the UK: he was passing through the airport in transit. The UK authorities 
had reached out into what is technically not even British territory and nabbed him, and had 
invoked the most chilling and murky grounds to do so. 

Guardian lawyers and Brazilian diplomats got to work, immediately attempting to 
secure David's release. I wasn't worried about how David would handle the detention. An 
unimaginably difficult life growing up orphaned in one of the poorest favelas in Rio de 
Janeiro had made him extremely strong, willful, and street smart. I knew he would 
understand exactly what was happening and why, and I had no doubt that he was giving his 
interrogators at least as hard a time as they were giving him. Still, the Guardian lawyers 
noted how rare it was for anyone to be held this long. 

Researching the Terrorism Act, I learned that only three out of every thousand people 
are stopped and most interrogations, over 97 percent, last under an hour. Only 0.06 percent 
are held for more than six hours. There seemed to be a substantial chance that David would 

be arrested once the nine-hour mark arrived. 

The stated purpose of the Terrorism Act, as the name suggests, is to question people 
about ties to terrorism. The detention power, the UK government claims, is used "to 
determine whether that person is or has been involved in the commission, preparation or 
instigation of acts of terrorism." There was no remote justification for detaining David under 
such a law, unless my reporting was now being equated with terrorism, which appeared to be 
the case. 

With each hour that went by, the situation seemed increasingly grim. All I knew was 
that Brazilian diplomats, as well as the Guardian's lawyers, were trying to locate David at 
the airport and get access to him, all without success. But at two minutes shy of the nine-hour 
mark, an email message from Janine gave me the news I needed to hear, in one word: 

David's shocking detention was instantly condemned around the world as a thuggish 
attempt at intimidation. A report from Reuters confirmed that this was indeed the British 
government's intention: "One U.S. security official told Reuters that one of the main 
purposes of the ... detention and questioning of Miranda was to send a message to recipients 
of Snowden's materials, including the Guardian, that the British government was serious 
about trying to shut down the leaks." 

But as I told the horde of journalists who gathered at the Rio airport, waiting for 
David's return, the UK's bullying tactics would not impede my reporting. If anything, I was 
even more emboldened. The UK authorities had shown themselves to be abusive in the 
extreme; the only proper response, in my view, was to exert more pressure and demand 
greater transparency and accountability. That is a primary function of journalism. When 
asked how I thought the episode would be perceived, I said I thought the UK government 
would come to regret what they had done because it would make them look repressive and 

A crew from Reuters wildly distorted and mistranslated my comments — which were 
made in Portuguese — to mean that in response to what they had done to David, I would now 
publish documents about the UK I had previously decided to withhold. As a wire service item, 
this distortion was quickly transmitted worldwide. 

For the next two days, the media angrily reported that I had vowed to carry out 
"revenge journalism." It was an absurd misrepresentation: my point was that the UK's 
abusive behavior had only made me more determined to continue my work. But as I had 
learned many times over, claiming that your comments have been reported out of context 
does nothing to halt the media machine. 

Misreported or not, the reaction to my comments was telling: the United Kingdom 
and the United States had for years behaved as bullies, responding to any challenge with 
threats and worse. The British authorities had only recently forced the Guardian to destroy 
its computers and had just detained my partner under a terrorism law. Whistle-blowers had 
been prosecuted and journalists threatened with prison. Yet even the perception of a forceful 
response to such aggression is met with great indignation from the state's loyalists and 
apologists: My God! He talked of revenge! Meek submission to intimidation by officialdom 
is viewed as an obligation; defiance is condemned as an act of insubordination. 

Once David and I finally escaped the cameras, we were able to talk. He told me that 
he had been defiant throughout the entire nine hours, but he admitted that he was scared. 

He had clearly been targeted: the passengers on his flight were instructed to show 
their passports to agents waiting outside the plane. When they saw his, he was detained under 

the terrorism law and "threatened from the first second until the last," David said, that he 
would go to prison if he did not "cooperate fully." They took all of his electronic equipment, 
including his cell phone containing personal photographs, his contacts, and his chats with 
friends, forcing him to give up the password to his cell phone upon threat of arrest. "I feel like 
they invaded my whole life, like I'm naked," he said. 

David had kept thinking about what the United States and the United Kingdom had 
done under the cover of fighting terrorism over the last decade. "They kidnap people, 
imprison them without charges or a lawyer, disappear them, put them in Guantanamo, they 
kill them," David said. "There's really nothing scarier than being told by those two 
governments that you're a terrorist," he told me — something that would not occur to most 
American or British citizens. "You realize they can do anything to you." 

The controversy over David's detention went on for weeks. It led the news in Brazil 
for days, and the Brazilian population was almost uniformly outraged. British politicians 
called for reform of the Terrorism Act. Of course it was gratifying that people recognized the 
UK's act for the abuse that it was. At the same time, though, the law had been a scandal for 
years — but mostly used against Muslims, so few people had cared. It shouldn't have needed 
the detention of the spouse of a high-profile, white, Western journalist to bring attention to 
the abuse, but it did. 

Unsurprisingly, it was revealed that the British government had spoken with 
Washington in advance of David's detention. When asked in a press conference, a White 
House spokesman said, "There was a heads-up ... so this was something we had an 
indication was likely to occur." The White House refused to condemn the detention and 
acknowledged that it had taken no steps to stop or even discourage it. 

Most journalists understood how dangerous this step was. "Journalism is not 
terrorism," declared an indignant Rachel Maddow on her MSNBC show, cutting to the heart 
of the matter. But not everyone felt the same way. Jeffrey Toobin praised the UK government 
on prime-time television, equating David's conduct to that of a "drug mule." Toobin added 
that David should be grateful he hadn't been arrested and prosecuted. 

That specter seemed a little more plausible when the British government announced 
that it formally commenced a criminal investigation into the documents David had been 
carrying. (David himself had initiated a lawsuit against the UK authorities, alleging that his 
detention was unlawful because it had nothing to do with the sole purpose of the law under 
which he was held: to investigate a person's ties to terrorism.) It is hardly surprising that 
authorities would be so emboldened when the most prominent of journalists likens crucial 

reporting in the public interest to the rank illegality of drug traffickers. 

* * * 

Shortly before he died in 2005, the heralded Vietnam war correspondent David 
Halberstam gave a speech to students at the Columbia Journalism School. The proudest 
moment of his career, he told them, was when US generals in Vietnam threatened to demand 
that his editors at the New York Times remove him from covering the war. He had, 
Halberstam said, "enraged Washington and Saigon by filing pessimistic dispatches on the 
war." The generals considered him "the enemy" since he had also interrupted their press 
conferences to accuse them of lying. 

For Halberstam, infuriating the government was a source of pride, the true purpose 
and calling of journalism. He knew that being a journalist meant taking risks, confronting 
rather than submitting to abuses of power. 

Today, for many in the profession, praise from the government for "responsible" 
reporting — for taking its direction about what should and should not be published — is a 
badge of honor. That this is the case is the true measure of how far adversarial journalism in 
the United States has fallen. 


In the very first online conversation I had with Edward Snowden, he told me he had 
only one fear about coming forward: that his revelations might be greeted with apathy and 
indifference, which would mean he had unraveled his life and risked imprisonment for 
nothing. To say that this fear has gone unrealized is to dramatically understate the case. 

Indeed, the effects of this unfolding story have been far greater, more enduring, and 
more wide-ranging than we ever dreamed possible. It focused the world's attention on the 
dangers of ubiquitous state surveillance and pervasive government secrecy. It triggered the 
first global debate about the value of individual privacy in the digital age and prompted 
challenges to America's hegemonic control over the Internet. It changed the way people 
around the world viewed the reliability of any statements made by US officials and 
transformed relations between countries. It radically altered views about the proper role of 
journalism in relation to government power. And within the United States, it gave rise to an 
ideologically diverse, trans-partisan coalition pushing for meaningful reform of the 
surveillance state. 

One episode in particular underscored the profound shifts brought about by 
Snowden' s revelations. Just a few weeks after my first Snowden-based article for the 
Guardian exposed the NSA's bulk metadata collection, two members of Congress jointly 
introduced a bill to defund that NSA program. Remarkably, the bill's two cosponsors were 
John Conyers, a Detroit liberal serving his twentieth term in the House, and Justin Amash, a 
conservative Tea Party member in only his second House term. It is hard to imagine two 
more different members of Congress, yet here they were, united in opposition to the NSA's 
domestic spying. And their proposal quickly gained dozens of cosponsors across the entire 
ideological spectrum, from the most liberal to the most conservative and everything in 
between — a truly rare event in Washington. 

When the bill came up for a vote, the debate was televised on C-SPAN, and I watched 
it while chatting online with Snowden, who was also watching C-SPAN on his computer in 
Moscow. We were both amazed at what we saw. It was, I believe, the first time he truly 
appreciated the magnitude of what he had accomplished. One House member after another 
stood up to vehemently denounce the NSA program, scoffing at the idea that collecting data 
on the calls of every single American is necessary to stop terrorism. It was by far the most 
aggressive challenge to the national security state to emerge from Congress since the 9/11 

Until the Snowden revelations, it was simply inconceivable that any bill designed to 
gut a major national security program could receive more than a handful of votes. But the 
final vote tally on the Conyers-Amash bill shocked official Washington: it failed by just a 
tiny margin, 205-217. Support for it was wholly bipartisan, with 111 Democrats joining 94 
Republicans to vote for the bill. This discarding of traditional party-line divisions was as 
exciting to Snowden and me as the substantial support for reining in the NSA. Official 
Washington depends upon blind tribalism engendered by rigid partisan warfare. If the red 
versus blue framework can be eroded, and then transcended, there is much more hope for 
policy making based on the actual interests of the citizenry. 

Over the following months, as more and more NSA stories were published around the 
world, many pundits predicted that the public would lose interest in the subject. But, in fact, 
interest in the surveillance discussion only intensified, not just domestically but 
internationally. The events of a single week in December 2013 — more than six months after 
my first report appeared in the Guardian — illustrate just how much Snowden's disclosures 
continue to resonate and just how untenable the NSA's position has become. 

The week began with the dramatic opinion issued by US federal judge Richard Leon 
that the NSA metadata collection was likely to be found in violation of the Fourth 
Amendment to the US Constitution, denouncing it as "almost Orwellian" in scope. As noted, 
the Bush-appointed jurist pointedly added that the government had not cited a single instance 
"in which analysis of the NSA's bulk metadata collection" had stopped a terrorist attack. Just 
two days later, President Obama's advisory panel, formed when the NSA scandal first broke, 
issued its 308-page report. That report, too, decisively rejected the NSA's claims about the 
vital importance of its spying. "Our review suggests that the information contributed to 
terrorist investigations by the use of [the Patriot Act's] section 215 telephony meta-data was 
not essential to preventing attacks," the panel wrote, confirming that in not a single instance 
would the outcome have been different "without the section 215 telephony meta-data 

Meanwhile, outside the United States the NSA's week was going no better. The UN 
general assembly unanimously voted in favor of a resolution — introduced by Germany and 
Brazil — affirming that online privacy is a fundamental human right, which one expert 
characterized as "a strong message to the United States that it's time to reverse course and 
end NSA dragnet surveillance." And on the same day, Brazil announced that it would not 
award a long-expected $4.5 billion contract for fighter jets to US-based Boeing but instead 
would purchase planes from the Swedish company Saab. Brazil's outrage over the NSA's 
spying on its leaders, its companies, and its citizenry was clearly a key factor in the surprise 
decision. "The NSA problem ruined it for the Americans," a Brazilian government source 
told Reuters. 

None of this is to say that the battle has been won. The security state is incredibly 
powerful, probably even more so than our highest elected officials, and it boasts a wide array 
of influential loyalists ready to defend it at all costs. So it is not surprising that it, too, has 
scored some victories. Two weeks after Judge Leon's ruling, another federal judge, 
exploiting the memory of 9/11, declared the NSA program constitutional in a different case. 
European allies have backed away from their initial displays of anger, falling meekly in line 
with the United States, as they so often do. Support from the American public has also been 
inconstant: polls show that a majority of Americans, though they oppose the NSA programs 
that Snowden exposed, nonetheless want to see him prosecuted for those exposures. And top 
US officials have even begun arguing that not only Snowden himself but also some of the 
journalists with whom he worked, including me, deserve prosecution and imprisonment. 

Yet the supporters of the NSA have clearly been set back on their heels, and their 
arguments against reform have been increasingly flimsy. Defenders of suspicionless mass 
surveillance often insist, for example, that some spying is always necessary. But this is a 
straw man proposition; nobody disagrees with that. The alternative to mass surveillance is 
not the complete elimination of surveillance. It is, instead, targeted surveillance, aimed only 
at those for whom there is substantial evidence to believe they are engaged in real 
wrongdoing. Such targeted surveillance is far more likely to stop terrorist plots than the 
current "collect it all" approach, which drowns intelligence agencies in so much data that 

analysts cannot sift it effectively. And unlike indiscriminate mass surveillance, it is 
consistent with American constitutional values and basic precepts of Western justice. 

Indeed, in the aftermath of the surveillance abuse scandals uncovered by the Church 
Committee in the 1970s, it was precisely this principle — that the government must provide 
some evidence of probable wrongdoing or status as a foreign agent before it can listen in on a 
person's conversations — which led to the establishment of the FISA court. Unfortunately, 
that court has been made into a mere rubber stamp, providing no meaningful judicial review 
to the government's surveillance requests. But the essential idea is sound nonetheless, and 
shows a way forward. Converting the FISA court into a real judicial system, rather than the 
one-sided current setup in which only the government gets to state its case, would be a 
positive reform. 

Such domestic legislative changes by themselves are unlikely to be sufficient for 
solving the surveillance problem because the national security state so often co-opts the 
entities meant to provide oversight. (As we have seen, for instance, the congressional 
intelligence committees have by now been thoroughly captured.) But these sorts of 
legislative changes can at least bolster the principle that indiscriminate mass surveillance has 
no place in a democracy ostensibly guided by constitutional guarantees of privacy. 

Other steps, too, can be taken to reclaim online privacy and limit state surveillance. 
International efforts — currently being led by Germany and Brazil — to build new Internet 
infrastructure so that most network traffic no longer has to transit the United States could go 
a long way toward loosening the American grip on the Internet. And individuals also have a 
role to play in reclaiming their own online privacy. Refusing to use the services of tech 
companies that collaborate with the NSA and its allies will put pressure on those companies 
to stop such collaboration and will spur their competitors to devote themselves to privacy 
protections. Already, a number of European tech companies are promoting their email and 
chat services as a superior alternative to offerings from Google and Facebook, trumpeting the 
fact that they do not — and will not — provide user data to the NSA. 

Additionally, to prevent governments from intruding into personal communications 
and Internet use, all users should be adopting encryption and brow sing- anonymity tools. This 
is particularly important for people working in sensitive areas, such as journalists, lawyers, 
and human rights activists. And the technology community should continue developing more 
effective and user- friendly anonymity and encryption programs. 

On all of these fronts, there is a great deal of work still to be done. But less than a year 
after I first met Snowden in Hong Kong, there is no question that his disclosures have already 
brought about fundamental, irreversible changes in many countries and many realms. And 
beyond the specifics of NSA reform, Snowden' s acts have also profoundly advanced the 
cause of government transparency and reform in general. He has created a model to inspire 
others, and future activists will likely follow in his footsteps, perfecting the methods he 

The Obama administration, which has brought more prosecutions against leakers 
than all prior presidencies combined, has sought to create a climate of fear that would stifle 
any attempts at whistle-blowing. But Snowden has destroyed that template. He has managed 
to remain free, outside the grasp of the United States; what's more, he has refused to remain 
in hiding but proudly came forward and identified himself. As a result, the public image of 
him is not a convict in orange jumpsuit and shackles but an independent, articulate figure 
who can speak for himself, explaining what he did and why. It is no longer possible for the 
US government to distract from the message simply by demonizing the messenger. There is a 

powerful lesson here for future whistle-blowers: speaking the truth does not have to destroy 
your life. 

And for the rest of us, Snowden's inspirational effect is no less profound. Quite 
simply, he has reminded everyone about the extraordinary ability of any human being to 
change the world. An ordinary person in all outward respects — raised by parents without 
particular wealth or power, lacking even a high school diploma, working as an obscure 
employee of a giant corporation — he has, through a single act of conscience, literally altered 
the course of history. 

Even the most committed activists are often tempted to succumb to defeatism. The 
prevailing institutions seem too powerful to challenge; orthodoxies feel too entrenched to 
uproot; there are always many parties with a vested interest in maintaining the status quo. But 
it is human beings collectively, not a small number of elites working in secret, who can 
decide what kind of world we want to live in. Promoting the human capacity to reason and 
make decisions: that is the purpose of whistle-blowing, of activism, of political journalism. 
And that's what is happening now, thanks to the revelations brought about by Edward 


In recent years, the efforts of Western governments to conceal their most 
consequential actions from their own citizens have been repeatedly thwarted by a series of 
remarkable disclosures from courageous whistleblowers. Time after time, people who 
worked inside government agencies or the military establishment of the United States and its 
allies have decided that they could not remain silent when they discovered serious 
wrongdoing. Instead, they came forward and made official misdeeds public, sometimes 
consciously breaking the law to do so, and always at great personal cost: risking their careers, 
their personal relationships, and their freedom. Everyone living in a democracy, everyone 
who values transparency and accountability, owes these whistleblowers a huge debt of 

The long line of predecessors who inspired Edward Snowden begins with Pentagon 
Papers leaker Daniel Ellsberg, one of my long-time personal heroes and now my friend and 
colleague, whose example I try to follow in all of the work I do. Other courageous 
whistle-blowers who have endured persecution to bring vital truths to the world include 
Chelsea Manning, Jesselyn Radack, and Thomas Tamm, as well as former NSA officials 
Thomas Drake and Bill Binney. They played a critical role in inspiring Snowden as well. 

Bringing to light the ubiquitous system of suspicionless surveillance being secretly 
constructed by the United States and its allies was Snowden's own self-sacrificing act of 
conscience. To watch an otherwise ordinary 29-year-old knowingly risk life in prison for the 
sake of a principle, acting in defense of basic human rights, was simply stunning. Snowden's 
fearlessness and unbreakable tranquility — grounded in the conviction that he was doing the 
right thing — drove all the reporting I did on this story, and will profoundly influence me for 
the rest of my life. 

The impact this story had would have been impossible without my incomparably 
brave and brilliant journalistic partner and friend, Laura Poitras. Despite years of harassment 
at the hands of the US government for the films she made, she never once hesitated in 
pursuing this story aggressively. Her insistence on personal privacy, her aversion to the 
public spotlight, has sometimes obscured how indispensable she has been to all of the 
reporting we were able to do. But her expertise, her strategic genius, her judgment, and her 

courage were at the heart and soul of all the work we did. We spoke almost every day and 
made every big decision collaboratively. I could not have asked for a more perfect 
partnership or a more emboldening and inspiring friendship. 

As Laura and I knew it would be, Snowden's courage ended up being contagious. 
Numerous journalists pursued this story intrepidly, including Guardian editors Janine 
Gibson, Stuart Millar, and Alan Rusbridger, along with several of the paper's reporters, led 
by Ewen MacAskill. Snowden was able to remain free and thus able to participate in the 
debate he helped trigger because of the daring, indispensable support given by WikiLeaks 
and its official, Sarah Harrison, who helped him leave Hong Kong and then remained with 
him for months in Moscow at the expense of her ability to safely return to the United 
Kingdom, her own country. 

Numerous friends and colleagues provided me very wise counsel and support in 
many difficult situations, including the ACLU's Ben Wizner and Jameel Jaffer; my lifelong 
best friend, Norman Fleisher; one of the world's best and bravest investigative journalists, 
Jeremy Scahill; the strong and resourceful Brazilian reporter Sonia Bridi of Globo; and 
Freedom of the Press Foundation Executive Director Trevor Timm. Family members, who 
often worried about what was happening (as only family members can), nonetheless 
remained steadfastly supportive (as only family members can), including my parents, my 
brother Mark, and my sister-in-law Christine. 

This was not an easy book to write, particularly under the circumstances, which is 
why I'm truly grateful to Metropolitan Books: to Connor Guy for his efficient management; 
to Grigory Tovbis for his insightful editorial contributions and technical proficiency; and 
especially to Riva Hocherman, whose intelligence and high standards have made her the best 
possible editor for this book. This is the second consecutive book I've published with Sara 
Bershtel and her remarkably wise and creative mind, and I cannot imagine ever wanting to 
write one without her. My literary agent, Dan Conaway, was once again a steady and wise 
voice throughout the process. Deep thanks as well to Taylor Barnes for her critical help in 
putting this book together; her research talents and intellectual energy leave no doubt that a 
stellar journalistic career lies ahead. 

As always, at the center of everything I do is my life partner, my husband of nine 
years, my soul mate David Miranda. The ordeal to which he was subjected as part of the 
reporting we did was infuriating and grotesque, but the benefit was that the world got to see 
what an extraordinary human being he is. Every step of the way, he injected me with 
fearlessness, bolstered my resolve, guided my choices, offered insights that made things clear, 
and stood right by me, unflinching, with unconditional support and love. A partnership like 
that is incomparably valuable, as it extinguishes fear, destroys limits, and makes everything 


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First published in the United States of America by Metropolitan Books, Henry Holt 

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First published in Great Britain by Hamish Hamilton 2014 

Copyright © Glenn Greenwald, 2014 
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ISBN: 978-0-241-96900-7 


The endnotes and index for this book can be found at